French president François Hollande on Thursday appointed former prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault to succeed Laurent Fabius as foreign minister and brought the Greens back into government.
In what is assumed to be the last cabinet reshuffle of his five-year term, Hollande enlarged the government from 32 to 38 members, with half now men and half women. However, women still tend to occupy more subaltern positions, with eight of 11 new junior ministers women.
The reshuffle indicates no clear policy changes, other than the attempt to bring the estranged Greens back into the fold in the run-up to the 2017 presidential election.
Hollande's stalwarts – environment minister Ségolène Royal, defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, finance minister Michel Sapin – remain unchanged. The popular young economy minister Emmanuel Macron was neither promoted nor demoted.
Ayrault's appointment as the highest-ranking minister after prime minister Manuel Valls is the most salient feature of the reshuffle. For the third time in a row, a former prime minister has been given the foreign ministry, after Alain Juppé and Laurent Fabius.
This is also the first time that a sitting prime minister, Valls, will be followed in rank in the cabinet by his predecessor, Ayrault.Valls replaced Ayrault when he was sacked after the socialists lost the March 2014 municipal elections.
Ayrault believed that Valls had plotted against him, along with
and Benoît Hamon. They later broke with Valls on ideological grounds and left his government.
Ayrault knows Hollande well. He was leader of the Socialist group in the national assembly for 15 years, including the 11 years (1997-2008) when Hollande was secretary general of the Socialist Party. In a documentary made by Ayrault's daughter last year, Hollande said with a sigh: "I miss Jean-Marc."
As foreign minister, Fabius, who has become president of the constitutional council, focused mostly on the war in Syria, the Iranian nuclear agreement and the COP21 climate conference.
Ayrault is expected to re-focus on Europe. A former German teacher, he converses with Chancellor Angela Merkel without an interpreter and is highly regarded in Berlin. The migrant crisis and the possibility of a UK exit from the EU are important issues he will have to address.
A former mayor of Nantes, Ayrault has been the most fervent advocate of building a new airport at Notre-Dame-des- Landes. He and Valls agree on that issue, but the airport is opposed by the Green, who had made its cancellation a condition for returning to government. They now appear to have dropped that demand.
The Greens refused to participate in the Valls government that was formed in April 2014 but apparently could not resist the temptation to regain a foothold in power.
As Florian Philippot, vice-president of the extreme right-wing National Front, put it, the Greens "had been scratching at the door for months". Hollande needs their support if he is to have any chance of re-election.
, national secretary of Europe Écologie Les Verts (EELV), becomes minister for housing. Jean-Vincent Placé, who left EELV last year, is junior minister in charge of state reforms and simplification. Another EELV militant,
, is junior minister for the environment in charge of biodiversity.
The most remarked upon slight was the ousting of culture minister Fleur Pellerin, and her replacement by Hollande's cultural adviser, Audrey Azoulay.
Azoulay is close to Hollande's partner, Julie Gayet. A former adviser to the king of Morocco, she reportedly makes Hollande laugh and organises Sunday night film screenings in the Élysée Palace.