French government resigns:Chirac re-appoints Raffarin
PARIS, March 30 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac on Tuesday asked his unpopular Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin to stay on despite the regional poll disaster for the centre-right, but ordered him to form a new government.
“Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has handed the government’s resignation to the president of the republic, who accepted it,” Chirac’s office said in a statement.
“He named Jean-Pierre Raffarin prime minister and ordered him to form a new government,” it said.
The Elysee said the new line-up would be announced on Wednesday, and that the newly-appointed cabinet would hold its first meeting Friday.
Chirac, who was due to travel to Moscow on Thursday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has postponed his trip until Saturday in order to oversee the government reshuffle, his office said.
A smiling Raffarin refused to make any comment to reporters when he left Chirac’s official residence, where the two men had held more than an hour of talks before the announcement.
An aide speaking on condition of anonymity said the prime minister was “going to consult a lot” on Tuesday with his aides and was to meet again with Chirac “in the next few hours”.
Chirac’s governing Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) was badly defeated in the elections on Sunday, which resulted in the left-wing opposition led by the Socialists (PS) seizing control of 24 of France’s 26 regional assemblies.
Former Socialist prime minister Laurent Fabius said that Chirac’s decision to keep Raffarin showed that the president “remains deaf to the clear message that the French people sent to him on March 21 and 28.”
The two-round regional polls were seen as a crucial mid-term test for Raffarin’s two-year-old government, whose mandate runs out in 2007, and the centre-right’s stunning defeat threw its policies of public sector reform into question.
Some commentators have speculated that Raffarin will stay on through European elections in June to absorb public ire over controversial plans to overhaul the social security system, employment law and state energy concerns.
Early Tuesday, junior transport minister Dominique Bussereau – who is close to Raffarin and tipped for a promotion – said the new government would be made up of a “very political team of men and women with real experience in political life.”
It will include “experienced parliamentary deputies who are capable of going into battle, capable of carrying out reforms and capable of carrying them out firmly, while keeping their ears constantly open,” he told RTL radio.
Bussereau reiterated Raffarin’s pledges to push through his reforms despite public discontent.
Among the ministers seen as the most vulnerable are Education Minister Luc Ferry – who could be replaced by Social Affairs Minister Francois Fillon – Finance Minister Francis Mer and Health Minister Jean-Francois Mattei.
Several names were circulating as possible replacements for Mer, including popular Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, UMP parliamentary group leader Jacques Barrot and even Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin.
The foreign ministry announced Tuesday that de Villepin had postponed planned trips to Berlin on Wednesday and to Haiti on Thursday.
Tipped for promotion were junior urban affairs minister Jean-Louis Borloo, whose popular touch and enthusiasm have impressed Chirac, Bussereau, government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope and small businesses minister Renaud Dutreil.
Socialist leaders have said a government reshuffle is not enough, and that the centre-right must revamp its reform policies.
Fabius said Chirac’s next move “is already known: it will be, undoubtedly with great skill in the presentation, to renew the unjust and ineffective policies, lacking in foresight, that have been carried out for two years.”
Subject: French News