Jean-Louis Borloo, Chirac's social missionary

31st March 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 31 (AFP) - Jean-Louis Borloo, the man chosen by French President Jacques Chirac to lead an enlarged ministry of labour and social affairs, was once France's highest paid lawyer who made his way into politics by rescuing a football club.

PARIS, March 31 (AFP) - Jean-Louis Borloo, the man chosen by French President Jacques Chirac to lead an enlarged ministry of labour and social affairs, was once France's highest paid lawyer who made his way into politics by rescuing a football club.

A stocky figure with a mop of curly hair that gives him the look of an Irish jockey, Borloo is a maverick charmer in the staid world of the French establishment - and his pugnacity and track record of social action will be useful assets to Chirac's jaded mid-term administration.

For the last two years as junior urban affairs minister, he has pushed through two important pieces of legislation - renovating France's aging stock of public housing and providing relief for families in chronic debt - earning a reputation as an effective and unobtrusive operator.

Born in Paris in 1951 - he will be 53 in a week - Borloo took business studies in France and Britain before qualifying as a lawyer in 1976 and setting up a practice that specialised in buying up companies in financial difficulty.

One of his top clients was the businessman and minister Bernard Tapie - later to be sent to jail for corruption - but his high-flying career changed after he was approached by the management of the Valenciennes football team in the rustbelt along the Belgian border and asked to draw up a rescue package.

Having saved the club he became the town's mayor in 1989. Using his connections and inside knowledge of the systems of state, regional and European subsidies, he succeeded in reversing the town's economic decline - notably attracting a new Toyota car factory.

Describing himself as a "Christian liberal," Borloo fulminated in a 2002 book called "An angry man" against the French system of heavily centralised administration which he described as "history's last dinosaur." Instead he advocated local politics and strong links between business and the community.

Despite once saying he had "no respect for politicians," he co-founded a group called "Generation Ecology" in 1990 and in 1998 he joined the centrist Union for French Democracy (UDF), becoming spokesman for its leader Francois Bayrou.

In 2002 he was part of the UDF majority that chose to merge itself with Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), which went on to form the new government after Chirac's re-election. Bayrou remained head of a rump UDF, and Borloo is an important bridge between the two men at a time when relations between the two parties of the centre-right are at a low-point.

Borloo has also served as a Euro-deputy, and he resigned his seat in France's National Assembly after being appointed minister in June 2002. He remains deputy-mayor of Valenciennes.

© AFP

Subject: French news

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