New French Finance Minister Breton takes office

28th February 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 28 (AFP) - New French Finance and Economy Minister Thierry Breton took office Monday confronting a fresh surge in French joblessness that has jumped to its highest rate in five years.

PARIS, Feb 28 (AFP) - New French Finance and Economy Minister Thierry Breton took office Monday confronting a fresh surge in French joblessness that has jumped to its highest rate in five years.

Breton nonetheless pledged to pursue the work of his three predecessors over the past three years.

"I am going to place my efforts in continuity with those of my predecessors, Herve Gaymard, Nicolas Sarkozy of course, and Francis Mer," Breton, formerly head of France Telecom, told a press conference at the finance ministry.

Breton is the fourth French finance minister since a centre-right coalition won elections in April 2002, and the ninth in 10 years.

Before speaking to media, the new minister had accompanied Gaymard to the door following a 30-minute meeting on urgent matters at hand, including the country's climbing unemployment rate to which the loss of 28,000 France Telecom jobs had contributed.

Gaymard announced his resignation Friday after a scandal over his luxury Paris apartment for which taxpayers were footing the bill had reached the point of no return.

On Monday, Breton told the press conference: "I am, of course, like many saddened by the circumstances of his departure ... and very honored to succeed him."

The former France Telecom chief will see his salary cut almost 90 percent as he tries his hand at public administration, leaving a post that paid EUR 1.35 million (USD 1 million) a year at the group which is 42.25 percent state-owned.

Because he resigned as chairman of the telecoms operator, Breton waived a severance package worth around EUR 2.35 million.

As finance minister his salary is EUR 168,000, and he reportedly turned the post down in December.

Breton has also sold his 11,000 France Telecom shares, put the rest of his stock in trust and resigned Sunday from all posts on various company boards, the finance ministry said.

They included the French consumer electronics group Thomson Multimedia, Schneider Electric and the Franco-Belgian bank Dexia.

The turnaround specialist had pulled French computer group Bull and Thomson back from the brink in the 1990s, and slashed record debt of almost EUR 70 billion at France Telecom, while eliminating around 28,000 jobs.

Breton will now have to tackle French unemployment, which breached 10 percent in January for the first time in five years, a task that is likely to leave little time for his hobbies, which include writing science fiction.

He must also bring stability to the finance ministry.

When Gaymard first met his German counterpart late last year, the Frenchman was promptly reminded that he was the sixth finance minister in six years.

Named following Sarkozy's high-profile term, Gaymard had demonstrated an impressive knowledge of his dossiers before being tripped up by the apartment affair.

Sarkozy stepped down on November 29 to head the ruling UMP party and to prepare a bid for the French presidency in 2007.

A report on Gaymard's luxury duplex by the French satirical investigative paper Le Canard Enchaine led last week to Gaymard's implying that he was not wealthy enough to own his own apartment.

Other newspapers then revealed that in fact he owned five houses or apartments in several parts of the country, including a large apartment in Paris that he had rented out for EUR 2,300 a month.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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