Sarkozy reshuffles after Lagarde leaves for IMF
French President Nicolas Sarkozy reshuffled his cabinet Wednesday after finance minister Christine Lagarde's left to head the IMF, bringing in budget minister Francois Baroin to replace her.
Baroin, 46, a close ally of Sarkozy's bitter rival and predecessor as president, Jacques Chirac, is replaced at the budget ministry by higher education minister Valerie Pecresse, the president's office said.
The reshuffle, broader than predicted, also brings in a number of centrists as Sarkozy seeks to head off the growing danger of a centre-right challenge to his re-election campaign 10 months before elections.
Centrist former members of his once broad-based right-of-centre cabinet are gathering around former environment minster Jean-Louis Borloo as a potential challenger, and Sarkozy is keen to halt more defections.
Pecresse is replaced at higher education by European affairs minister Laurent Wauqiez, who is in turn replaced on the Brussels beat by the lawmaker and fellow member of Sarkozy's majority UMP party Jean Leonetti.
Sarkozy's former minister for public administration, George Tron, resigned in May after he was accused of raping and molesting two city hall employees, and was replaced in the reshuffle by the centrist Francois Sauvadet.
Another centrist, lawmaker Marc Laffineur, becomes a junior defence minister in charge of veterans' affairs.
And, in a surprise move, the president invented a new job -- minister for French citizens living abroad -- and gave its to the hulking former Olympic judo champion and UMP parliamentarian David Douillet.
In April next year, Sarkozy will compete in the first round presidential vote against a broad field of candidates.
He still has a long campaign ahead of him, but current opinion polls suggest that a centrist or centre-right candidate could recruit enough of his faltering support to put him in danger of being beaten in the first round.
Such a humiliation would see him drop out and a Socialist candidate go into the second-round run-off against far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Sarkozy has therefore begun to reach out to centrists still in his camp -- Borloo has already won over two other former ministers -- in a bid to convince them to stay on board.
© 2011 AFP