Villepin to reveal new government by Friday

1st June 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, June 1 (AFP) - Newly-appointed Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin worked on Wednesday to form a government capable of healing a deeply divided nation following France's resounding rejection of the EU constitution.

PARIS, June 1 (AFP) - Newly-appointed Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin worked on Wednesday to form a government capable of healing a deeply divided nation following France's resounding rejection of the EU constitution.  

President Jacques Chirac - who appointed Villepin on Tuesday, two days after nearly 55 percent of voters rejected the charter - urged other leaders in the European Union to "take the time needed" to assess the damage done to the treaty.  

Villepin met with the 72-year-old French president at the Elysee palace early Wednesday. Aides to the new premier said his cabinet line-up would likely be unveiled either Thursday or Friday.  

The 51-year-old Villepin, who replaced the unpopular Jean-Pierre Raffarin, was to appear on television later Wednesday to set out his government's agenda, with the fight against persistently high unemployment at the top of the list.  

But the buzz in political circles and in the French media concerned Chirac's announcement that Nicolas Sarkozy - his arch-rival and head of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) - would return to government.  

"In a spirit of rallying together, I have asked Nicolas Sarkozy to join the government as a minister of state and he has accepted," Chirac said in a televised address to the nation late Tuesday.  

Sarkozy, a charismatic 50-year-old former interior and finance minister, has made no secret of his desire to run for president in 2007 nor hidden his dislike for Villepin, who is Chirac's loyal lieutenant.  

But he told a group of UMP parliamentary deputies: "I will assume my responsibilities and my duties. What would you say if I decided to stand by and watch the ship sink?"   

Sarkozy was widely expected to return to the interior ministry, where he first built up his nationwide popularity rating, and remain head of the UMP, insiders said.  

The French press reacted sceptically to the prospect of fruitful collaboration between the suave, aristocratic Villepin and the provocative, pugnacious Sarkozy. Le Parisien newspaper called the duo "explosive".  

"At the best, we can expect sparks. At the worst, we could see a raging fire that would burn the government's action to the ground," the financial daily La Tribune said in an editorial.  

The daily Le Monde said France "deserves better than these patch-up jobs" after Sunday's historic referendum.  

Chirac promised to make the fight against unemployment his new government's top priority, after voters said their fear of a spiralling jobless rate was the primary reason behind their decision to vote "no" to the EU constitution.   

"The priority of government action in the service of Frenchwomen and men is, of course, jobs. This demands a national mobilization ... which must be carried out with total respect for the French model," Chirac said.  

Reducing unemployment, which hovers at about 10 percent, has been a constant theme of Chirac's 10 years in office, with no sign that he has succeeded in lowering the high jobless rate.  

The left-wing opposition blasted the Villepin-Sarkozy team.  

Socialist party leader Francois Hollande calling Chirac a president "at the end of his reign" who had handed his administration to "two prime ministers pursuing two different policies".  

Former Socialist finance minister Dominique Strauss-Kahn added: "The French people are suffering, are asking for real changes and Jacques Chirac keeps going, all while stammering a vague 'I understood you'."  

As the Dutch went to the polls Wednesday for what was predicted to be a second defeat for the EU constitution, Chirac suggested that he and his 24 EU counterparts assess the consequences of the French "no" at a June 16-17 summit.  

"Above and beyond what this decision implies for my own country, I am aware of the consequences that this situation imposes on France's partners and on the Union itself," Chirac wrote in a letter to the EU leaders.



Subject: French News

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