France's new president has unveiled a government featuring an equal number of women and men, with figures who reflect the country's ethnic diversity.
Unlike the Cabinet of Nicolas Sarkozy, who taunted the opposition by opening it up to different political backgrounds, Hollande’s Cabinet is dominated by his allies on the left. It immediately faces the daunting task of redressing the issues of a highly indebted country, hit by crisis and economically on its knees.
Of 34 posts in government, 17 are for women. They include Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, 34, a local councillor in Lyon, who has been appointed minister for women’s rights, a position long missing from the French government. The former presidential campaign spokesperson is also likely to dominate the media, as she is now the government spokeswoman.
Vallaud-Belkacem was born in Morocco and came to France to join her immigrant father. She studied law and politics before joining the Socialist party, in part in reaction to the success of the far-right Jean-Marie Le Pen in the 2002 presidential elections. She has already been criticised by the French right for retaining joint Moroccan and French nationality.
Her appointment is a sign of the emergence of a new generation. Other ministers aged under 40 include Aurélie Filippetti, a former ecologist, novelist and MP in Lorraine, who was appointed culture minister. The Green party leader Cécilie Duflot becomes minister for housing.
Another significant appointment is Christiane Taubira, justice minister‚ an MP from French Guyana, and author on slavery. Marisol Touraine was made minister for health and social affairs, and the senator Nicole Bricq took ecology. George Pau-Langevin, who for years was the only black MP from mainland France in parliament took a junior education ministry.
Jean-Marc Ayrault, a veteran social democrat and German expert, was appointed prime minister on Tuesday. The sharing out of government posts is the clearest indication of Hollande’s priorities and way of working, with the public sector featuring prominently, and a “productivity” ministry to boost France’s declining industry.
Traditionally French governments start with a sugared pill, for example Sarkozy’s initial tax-breaks, but this time the pill will be bitter from the start as Hollande attempts to rein in the public deficit despite low growth predictions and high unemployment. The first Cabinet meeting on Thursday will cut the president’s and minister’s salaries by 30%
The government was announced late, apparently after last-minute deals in a party that has long been dominated by back-stabbing and internal sparring, despite Hollande seemingly keeping a lid on ego-battles during the campaign.
The Socialists’ leader, Martine Aubry, on the left of the party, was notably absent from government after refusing to take a consolation prize post when she was not nominated prime minister. But in a sign that Hollande wanted to keep some of his former enemies close, the job of foreign minister went to Laurent Fabius, a former prime minister, who opposed the European constitution in 2005.
Pierre Moscovici, Hollande’s campaign director, a fluent English speaker and former minister for European affairs takes the crucial finance ministry job.
Manuel Valls, Catalan-born and seen as an ambitious rising star of the younger generation, on the right of the Socialist party, will take the interior ministry, which served as Nicolas Sarkozy’s launch pad for his presidential ambitions. Viewed as tough on law and order, he is an MP and mayor in a mixed Paris suburb, interested in diversity and the housing estates. When he competed for the Socialist presidential ticket last autumn he visited London to look at how the Tottenham riots had been handled.
France is in a kind of political limbo until the parliamentary elections on June 10 and June 17. Hollande needs a leftwing majority in parliament if he is to put his programme into action. But there is a question mark over whether the Socialist party would have an absolute majority or need support from the Communists or the Greens to pass legislation. The government might have to be slightly reshuffled after the parliamentary elections, depending on how well the left fares and whether it needs to bring in coalition partners. – © Guardian News and Media 2012