New French FM is scalpel-sharp political operator

3rd June 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 2 (AFP) - Philippe Douste-Blazy, who was named France's new foreign minister Thursday, is a cardiologist, former mayor of the southern city of Toulouse and most recently minister of health in the outgoing government of Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

PARIS, June 2 (AFP) - Philippe Douste-Blazy, who was named France's new foreign minister Thursday, is a cardiologist, former mayor of the southern city of Toulouse and most recently minister of health in the outgoing government of Jean-Pierre Raffarin.  

A boyish 52, he has little experience of foreign affairs, but has a reputation as a charming, ambitious - and at times cunning - political operator.  

Born into a medical family on New Year's Day 1953, Douste-Blazy trained in Toulouse and worked as a heart specialist until 1989, when he first entered politics as a European deputy and mayor of his birth-place, the Catholic shrine town of Lourdes.  

Originally a member of the now-defunct centrist Social Democratic Centre party, Douste-Blazy won a seat in the National Assembly in 1993 and immediately embarked on his first government experience as junior health minister under prime minister Edouard Balladur.  

Two years later he backed Jacques Chirac's presidential bid and was rewarded after his election with the post of culture minister and government spokesman. He left government in 1997 after the Socialists won a majority in the National Assembly.  

In March 2001 he was elected mayor of Toulouse in the so-called "blue tide" that brought centre-right politicians to power in cities across France. His victory - over a well-established Socialist incumbent - was favourably noted in the Elysee palace.  

With Chirac manoeuvring for his second term, Douste-Blazy showed his ruthless streak when he abandoned his political family - the Union for French Democracy (UDF) - to become a leader of the Union for a Presidential Majority (UMP) which was being formed to back the president.  

After Chirac's resounding second-round victory in 2002 over Jean-Marie Le Pen, Douste-Blazy hoped to be named as prime minister. When he was overlooked, he shelved his ministerial ambitions and returned to Toulouse city hall.  

His biggest challenge there was coping with the aftermath of the AZF chemical factory explosion in September 2001, which killed 30 people and left more than 1,000 wounded.  

Douste-Blazy returned to government in the reshuffle of March 2004 when he was named minister of health. At a time of considerable tension in the debt-ridden health system, he oversaw a contested plan to cut costs by introducing a one-euro consultation fee and promoting generic drugs.  

Regarded as a highly effective communicator, the minister is known for his room-working skills and affable doctor's manner. During the campaign for the EU constitution he drew praise from Chirac's wife Bernadette, who on a joint visit to a hospital said he was a "great minister" and a "master of communication."  

"Douste has incredible self-confidence because he succeeded in life very early," a friend told AFP.  

After the world-trotting self-confidence of Dominique de Villepin and the European expertise of Michel Barnier - his two predecessors - Douste-Blazy has qualities that are more home-grown.  

This may reflect new priorities following Sunday's stunning defeat for the EU constitution.  

Douste-Blazy is married and has an adopted Vietnamese son. In 1997 he was badly hurt when a mentally-unstable man stabbed him in the back as he campaigned in Lourdes.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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