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The reshuffle has failed already

If the reshuffle was supposed to boost Sarkozy, it has failed already, says Peter Hawkins

From the announcement that François Fillon was to remain Prime Minister, President Sarkozy's reshuffle created nothing but disappointment for commentators who had been waiting since March for some exciting decision-making.

Just 36 per cent of French people believe that the new government (Fillon III) chimes with their own wishes. Popular ministers such as Rama Yade and Jean-Louis Borloo are out, while the unknown (Marie-Anne Montchamp) or too well known (former PM Alain Juppé) are in.

Given that ministers in France will refuse to resign when caught out making racist remarks (Brice Hortefeux, Nadine Morano) or admitting sex with “boys” in Thailand (Frédéric Mitterrand), a reshuffle is the only opportunity to show where the government's moral priorities lie, as well as its political ones.

All three remain in the cabinet, although Eric Woerth, once tipped as a PM-in-the-making, has been dropped.

As Woerth's time is likely to be spent in legal hearings over his involvement in the tax strategy of France's richest woman, Liliane Bettencourt, and donations to the UMP party (a scandal that came perilously close to President Sarkozy), his presence in the cabinet was no longer necessary.

Bernard Kouchner (Foreign Affairs), Hervé Morin (Defence) and Jean-Louis Borloo (Environment) are all also out.

Morin had already announcement his intention to run in the 2012 presidential elections for his Nouveau Centre party and Kouchner and Borloo had become increasingly critical of the president.

Sports minister Rama Yade's recent silence has not been enough to spare her the axe. Too often she was caught criticising the president and not playing with the team.

Given her popularity with the public, based on the fact that she speaks her mind, she is unlikely to disappear. In fact, not being associated with a government that is unpopular before it has even begun, led by France's most unpopular president, could bring personal benefits.

Yade's replacement, Chantal Jouanno, is at least qualified in the position, having become the French champion of Kata karate in March, while a junior minister in the Ministry of the Environment.

One man was rewarded for his unfailing loyalty by being sacked. Christian Estrosi (known as Sarkozy's bodyguard for the amount of time they spend together) underperformed as Industry Minister in the eyes of French commentators, but is likely to get a party post instead.

Health minister Roselyne Bachelot has been demoted, a wrap on the knuckles for her
handling of the H1N1 outbreak that saw the government spend e1 billion on preparation, but only seven per cent of the population agreeing to be vaccinated.

In a sign of a shift in policy, the job of immigration minister has been scrapped and dissolved into the brief of the Interior Minister. Sarkozy's national debate on French identity, the closure of immigrant camps and expulsion of gypsies were all spearheaded through this ministerial position. His scrapping of the position could be seen as an admission that the policy has boosted the vote of the far-right, rather than undermined it. Eric Besson, who held the role, has returned to his former job of digital economy minister.

Sarkozy's first cabinet was praised for its racial and political diversity, and the number of women. His latest reverts to tradition, dominated by centre-right, white males. However, while there are few women, they do hold the heavyweight positions of Finance (Christine Lagarde), Foreign Affairs (Michèle Alliot-Marie) and Environment (Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet).

A small surprise lay in the appointment of the head of the anti-discrimination watchdog La Halde, Jeannette Bougrab, as junior minister for youth. Her departure from La Halde (a body under threat) comes just six months after she took up the position, and leaves its future uncertain. Bougrab is the daughter of a Harki (Algerians who fought with the French during the Algerian civil war), a former student of law at the Sorbonne and very much on the left of Sarkozy's UMP party.

Sarkozy has set out the big issues he wishes to tackle in the 18 months before the presidential election. These are:

Tax reform: Scrapping wealth tax and the bouclier fiscal tax cap, bringing the French system closer in line with that of Germany and working out how to make up any lost revenue.
Care of the elderly: Sarkozy has already announced this will be a major project for the government. It will look not only a finding funds to tackle the problem of an ageing population, but the methods and resources used.

Employment: The government will concentrate on getting the young and the middle-aged back into work. The former have the highest unemployment rate in France, while the latter, who have to work longer as a result of pension legislation changes, need greater help to get them back in work.

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