Sarkozy steps down from finance portfolio

29th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 29 (AFP) - Nicolas Sarkozy resigned as France's finance and economy minister Monday to concentrate on his new job leading the ruling UMP party of President Jacques Chirac, government officials said.

PARIS, Nov 29 (AFP) - Nicolas Sarkozy resigned as France's finance and economy minister Monday to concentrate on his new job leading the ruling UMP party of President Jacques Chirac, government officials said.

His ministerial resignation was imposed on him by Chirac, whom he has ambitions of replacing in presidential elections in 2007.

There is no love lost between Sarkozy, 49, and Chirac, who turned 72 Monday.

Although they ostensibly belong in the same camp, they share little in common ideologically and may face off in 2007 presidential elections if Chirac decides to go for a third mandate. Sarkozy has said he covets the head-of-state role.

"I presented my resignation from the government as promised," Sarkozy told reporters as he left Raffarin's office.

He said he wished "good luck" to his successor in the finance ministry.

"As for me, I'm going to concentrate on my work," he said.

In his speech Sunday after being voted UMP chief, with 81 percent of the vote cast by party members, Sarkozy made it clear he planned to use his new position to push for deep changes in France, including labour and economic reform.

France's most popular politician, according to surveys, Sarkozy took up the party reins after Alain Juppe, a Chirac loyalist and former prime minister, had to step down after being convicted of illegal party financing.

The French media Monday saw Sarkozy's rise to head the party Chirac created as the opening act in what promised to be a period of intense jockeying between the two men before the next presidential poll.

"It's shaping up to be a fight to the death where any public agreement will simply be a facade," the left-leaning Liberation newspaper said in an editorial.

"It's a face-to-face Chirac-Sarkozy which will polarise politics in the years to come," the conservative Le Figaro wrote.

That newspaper added that the situation was essentially a "cohabitation" - a term usually used to describe a power-sharing arrangement in French democracy under which a president of one political stripe has to work with a government of the opposing camp.

The opposition Socialist party, which is in the grip of a damaging split over whether to back the EU constitution, attempted to portray Sarkozy as a free wheeling liberal with a taste for the limelight in the manner of US politicians - an insult in France.

His taking control of the UMP was "the birth of an American right, a Sarkozyian right," the second-in-charge of the Socialist party, Laurent Fabius, said.

Immediately after Sarkozy's departure, Chirac's office announced that Herve Gaymard would move from being agriculture minister to pick up the finance portfolio.

A junior economy minister in charge of the budget, Dominique Bussereau, was tapped to take over Gaymard's agriculture office, while the government's spokesman, Jean-Francois Cope, saw his duties broadened to include Bussereau's old functions in the reshuffle.

© AFP (combined reports)

Subject: French News

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