· Low-key style set to complement Sarkozy
· New leaders start regime with jogging session
France's new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, yesterday appointed his prime minister, François Fillon, a cool-headed reformer unlikely to upstage his powerful, omnipresent boss.
Mr Fillon, 53, a senator from north-western France, is a tea-drinking anglophile who has spent time at Downing Street observing Tony Blair, impressed by New Labour's "informal" style.
He is the first French head of government to have a British wife. Welsh-born Penelope Clarke is described as "well integrated" in village life outside Le Mans where they live in a 12th-century chateau with their five children.
Mr Fillon, a loyal Sarkozy adviser, shares the president's conviction that France is reformable and desperate for change, and that street protests can be faced down.
As social affairs minister he pushed through controversial pensions reform despite strikes and demonstrations by more than a million protesters and is known as a "listener" among powerful union leaders. He is determined to quickly enact Mr Sarkozy's plans to cut taxes, loosen the 35-hour week rule and curb strike powers. Yesterday he promised to deliver "a new kind of politics".
They are described as "fire and water": Fillon is a man of the shadows against Mr Sarkozy's love of the spotlight, a regional figure against Mr Sarkozy's city boy image. The prime minister appears ready to step back and facilitate Mr Sarkozy's drive to be the most omnipresent, powerful French president yet, addressing parliament and shaping policy and domestic affairs.
Yesterday morning, the pair were keen to resume their famed joint jogging sessions in front of the cameras. Mr Fillon arrived at the Elysée early in shorts and trainers before setting off on a typical punishing sprint with his boss. He once said that Mr Sarkozy "never stops talking" during his runs.
The new prime minister, though more reserved than his dynamic president, is just as keen on "action man" sporting pursuits. He is a fan of bull-fighting, mountaineering and racing-car driving, taking the wheel of a Ferrari for races at Le Mans.
Mr Fillon has said that he favours a presidential regime where the head of state manages the government, and Mr Sarkozy is certain to concentrate power at the Elysée with his promised "hands on" approach.
Foreign policy and defence are the special domain of the French president and Mr Sarkozy will increase his hold by appointing his own White House-style security adviser and council. He is unlikely to leave day-to-day domestic matters to his ministers and cabinet. Already he has taken direct control of choosing his cabinet and has led talks with unions and employers.
France's government of 15 ministers will be announced today and is likely to include surprises such as the socialist founder of Médicins sans Frontières, Bernard Kouchner, as foreign minister, the return of Alain Juppé after his corruption conviction, and the first senior minister of north African origin, Rachida Dati.
Le Nouvel Observateur
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