Aubry out as Hollande names new cabinet

Thu, May 17, 2012, 01:00

FRENCH PRESIDENT François Hollande has named a gender-balanced government in which some of the most senior posts will be held by centrists and close allies of the president.

Mr Hollande fulfilled a campaign promise by naming nine women among his 18 senior ministers, with the same ratio in the junior ministerial ranks.

The most significant omission from cabinet is Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry, who was a powerful figure in France’s last left-wing government and had been tipped as a possible prime minister until Mr Hollande opted for Jean-Marc Ayrault, a close ally.

Ms Aubry, a popular figure with the party’s left-wing base, made it clear she would stay away rather than settle for a consolation prize. “We agreed that under this configuration my presence in the government made little sense,” she said.

After Mr Ayrault, the most senior figure in cabinet will be party veteran Laurent Fabius, the new foreign minister. Mr Fabius (65), the oldest and most experienced minister, previously ran the finance ministry and was appointed prime minister by then president François Mitterrand at the age of 37.

Mr Fabius’s appointment completes a long political comeback. In 2005, he defied Mr Hollande, then secretary general of the Socialist Party, by calling for a No vote in the referendum on the European Constitution. He has had a strained relationship with Mr Hollande, whom he once nicknamed “wild strawberry”.

Pierre Moscovici (54), a centrist and one-time ally of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, will take the powerful post of finance minister and will become one of France’s leading voices in efforts to contain the sovereign debt crisis and kick-start economic growth.

He was Mr Hollande’s campaign manager and oversaw his transition team ahead of the transfer of power this week.

Mr Moscovici will be charged with fulfilling Mr Hollande’s pledge to balance the national budget – a feat not achieved in more than 40 years – by 2017.

The interior ministry will be led by the Spanish-born Manuel Valls (49), who represents the right wing of the Socialist Party and is known for his tough line on crime. Mr Valls, who saw his reputation enhanced as Mr Hollande’s communications adviser during the campaign, is also close to Mr Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund.

The most senior women in cabinet will be Christiane Taubira (Justice), Marisol Touraine (Social Affairs and Health) and Cécile Duflot (37) of the Greens, who was appointed to a new ministry for housing and regional equality.

Nicole Bricq will be environment minister and Aurélie Filipetti (38) will be in charge of culture and communication.

Najat Vallaud Belkacem (34), a high-profile member of Mr Hollande’s campaign communications team, was named government spokeswoman.

As expected, there was no place for Ségolène Royal, Mr Hollande’s former partner and the socialists’ defeated candidate in the 2007 presidential election. She hopes to become leader of the party’s group in the National Assembly.

The line-up includes a number of Hollande loyalists, including Jean-Yves Le Drian (Defence), Stéphane Le Foll (Agriculture) and Michel Sapin (Labour).

Another of the major appointments is Vincent Peillon, a 51-year-old former philosophy professor and now an MEP, whose task will be to act on Mr Hollande’s campaign pledge to create 60,000 jobs in schools over the next five years. Given Ms Aubry’s absence, Mr Hollande needed to ensure the party’s left wing was well represented at cabinet. He appointed Arnaud Montebourg, an outspoken lawyer who has made a name for himself as a vociferous critic of globalisation, to take charge of “industrial revival”.

In just over three weeks, the new government faces parliamentary elections which the left must win in order to remain in office and save Mr Hollande from having to “cohabit” with a right-wing administration.