Sarkozy names slimline, cross-party government

18 May 2007 02:11

French President Nicolas Sarkozy unveiled a broad-based Cabinet on Friday, naming popular leftist Bernard Kouchner as foreign minister in a slimline government that radically reshaped the economic ministries.

Maintaining an election promise, Sarkozy appointed seven women to his 15-strong team, breaking a male stranglehold on power and halving the number of Cabinet posts.

Sarkozy and Prime Minister Francois Fillon, who was appointed on Thursday, will hold their first cabinet meeting on Friday, sending a clear signal that they immediately want to get to work on their reform programme.

Alain Juppe, a former prime minister, becomes the government number two heading a new super-ministry that combines the environment, sustainable development, transport and energy.

Jean-Louis Borloo, the previous labour minister, becomes France's economy supremo, in charge of a revamped portfolio that includes economic strategy and employment.

He will be shadowed by Eric Woerth, the former treasurer of Sarkozy's ruling UMP party, who will be responsible for the state budget and all aspects of public spending -- a new post aimed at rationalising the government and cutting costs.

It was not immediately clear who would run industrial policy or foreign trade, with both areas previously run by separate ministers -- posts that were absent from Friday's Cabinet list.

In a first, Sarkozy reached out to the opposition and picked three leftists for
his administration -- Kouchner as foreign minister, Jean-Pierre Jouyet as
secretary of state for Europe and Eric Besson as secretary of state for public

The Socialists have accused Sarkozy of trying to destabilise their party, still struggling to absorb their presidential election defeat, and have belittled Kouchner's move saying core parts of his portfolio will be poached by Sarkozy's office.

Sarkozy plans to set up a foreign-policy advisory body within his Elysee Palace that could limit any room for manoeuvre for Kouchner, a former United Nations governor in Kosovo.

Reaching out to centrist allies, Sarkozy appointed Herve Morin as defence minister. He will replace Michele Alliot-Marie, who switches to an Interior Ministry that has been stripped off responsibility for immigration issues.

These have been placed in a highly controversial new ministry for immigration and national identity, which Sarkozy entrusted to his longest-standing ally, Brice Hortefeux.

One of the first tasks of the new government will be to campaign for legislative elections on June 10 and 17, which the president must win to enact his reform programme. Opinion polls have suggested that he should secure a strong majority.

Sarkozy wants his ministers to prepare a raft of laws to present to the new Parliament as soon as it sits this summer.

One of the priorities will be to draw up a mini-budget to introduce promised reductions in corporate and inheritance tax.

As the government list was being read out, Sarkozy, who only took office on Wednesday, met unions at troubled European plane maker Airbus at its headquarters in Toulouse.

Airbus parent EADS was plunged into a financial crisis during the French election campaign and Sarkozy told reporters that the shareholder pact, which guarantees Franco-German parity, needs to change.

Germany has resisted repeated French attempts in recent years to seize greater control of the company, which was founded in 2000 with a merger of the two countries' top aerospace firms.

Sarkozy said he would return to Toulouse with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in July to discuss the firm's future. -- Reuters

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