Nicolas Sarkozy has unveiled a 15-minister government that includes seven women and the left-wing human rights champion Bernard Kouchner as foreign minister. Sarkozy showed his declared aim of breaking with France’s political past by giving half the cabinet jobs to women, reaching out across the political divide, and including a minister of North African origin.
The team, announced a day after the right-wing President named François Fillon as prime minister, is a radically slimmed-down administration that remodels several key ministries.
France has joined Chile, Finland, Spain and Sweden in seeking gender parity in
The appointment of Sarkozy’s election campaign spokeswoman, Rachida Dati, 41, at the justice ministry makes her the first politician of North African origin to hold a top French government post. France has millions of immigrants of Arab and African origin but they are poorly represented in national politics and lack of integration led to nationwide riots in late 2005.
The appointment of Kouchner, 67, a doctor-turned-politician who backed Sarkozy’s Socialist rival Ségolène Royal in the election campaign, infuriated the left who responded by saying he would be expelled from the Socialist Party. Kouchner, founder of the Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) charity, is a former UN High Representative in Kosovo and a very popular politician.
The Socialists accuse Sarkozy of trying to destabilise their party, which has lost three presidential elections in a row.
They derided Kouchner’s appointment, predicting that the president would keep key
foreign policy for himself. The new government, half the size of the cabinet under Jacques Chirac, also includes a centrist, as well as two more left-wingers in junior posts.
Alain Juppé, a prime minister under Chirac, returns as government number two at the helm of a new super-ministry for Environment, Sustainable Development and Energy.
Juppé was given a one-year suspended sentence in 2004 for abusing public funds, the highest profile figure to be punished in a party finance scandal that hit the main centre-right party in the 1990s and could still affect Chirac. His conviction forced him to leave politics for several years.
Former Employment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo became Minister for the Economy, Finance and Employment, a new portfolio to spearhead Sarkozy’s economic reform drive. Ex-defence minister Michèle Alliot-Marie got Sarkozy’s former job at the Interior Ministry, a tough posting given the social unrest in the high-immigration suburbs in recent years.
Christine Lagarde, a corporate lawyer, became agriculture minister. She was international trade minister in the last government.
Close Sarkozy aide Brice Hortefeux takes charge of the controversial new immigration and national identity ministry, while Hervé Morin, of presidential candidate François Bayrou’s centrist UDF party, was named defence minister.
As the new cabinet met for the first time, Sarkozy repeated his commitment to reforms aimed at slashing unemployment to 5%, according to Culture Minister Christine Albanel.
The new government is expected to quickly roll out a raft of measures to cut taxes, keep trains running during strikes and relax France’s 35-hour working week. Fillon must first lead his UMP party into parliamentary elections this month hoping for the majority needed to push through the reforms. Most opinion polls say the UMP will easily win a majority.