French govt reshuffle makes Ayrault the new foreign minister

AP News
Posted: Feb 11, 2016 3:51 PM
French govt reshuffle makes Ayrault the new foreign minister

PARIS (AP) — Former Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, a low-key veteran of the Socialist Party much acquainted with German culture, will become France's new foreign minister.

Ayrault, 66, replaces Laurent Fabius in a government reshuffling announced Thursday by French President Francois Hollande's office.

Fabius, who helped clinch a landmark climate accord in Paris last year and played a prominent role in negotiations on a nuclear accord with Iran, is going to become chief of the Constitutional Council, France's top court which makes sure that legislation complies with the constitution.

A few green party members are joining the government as well in an apparent effort to quell tensions within Hollande's camp ahead of next year's presidential election.

Other leading ministerial positions are unchanged, including Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Finance Minister Michel Sapin and Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron. The French government now counts 18 ministers and 20 junior ministers in addition to Prime Minister Manuel Valls and as many women as men.

"This is a government that must act, that must reform, that must move forward," Hollande told the TF1 and France 2 TV channels, refusing to say if he will stand for re-election next year. "We must have results."

He said he chose Ayrault for his experience and knowledge of international issues.

Ayrault was Hollande's first prime minister from 2012 to 2014. He is generally considered a hard worker, discreet and even shy. He is a former teacher of German, a skill considered a key advantage in conducting French-German diplomatic relations.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he's "glad" that Ayrault, "a French politician closely linked to Germany" is Fabius' successor.

Not everyone cheered the move. The No. 2 of the far-right National Front party, Florian Philippot, told iTele television that Ayrault's appointment was a symbol of France's "submission" to Germany.

When Ayrault left the government in 2014 to be replaced by Valls, his unpopularity was approaching a record high. He notably failed to boost France's stagnant economy or to lower the unemployment rate. Since 2014, he has been a lawmaker at France's lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, a position he previously held from 1986 to 2012.

In other governmental moves, Environment Minister Segolene Royal saw her position extended to international relations on climate issues. The head of the green party EELV, Emmanuelle Cosse, got the housing ministry. Members of another green party named "Ecologists" are also joining the government as junior ministers.

Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin was replaced by Audrey Azoulay, previously adviser to Hollande on culture and communication issues.

The president's office also stressed that a junior minister put in charge of "helping victims," Juliette Meadel, was the result of last year's deadly attacks in Paris.