France's new prime minister readies fresh cabinet

16th May 2012, Comments 0 comments

President Francois Hollande's new Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault got straight to work hiring a cabinet on his first day on the job Wednesday, vowing to get France back on its feet.

Ayrault, a 62-year-old former German teacher, lawmaker and longtime Hollande ally bade farewell to former president Nicolas Sarkozy's premier Francois Fillon and said his first cabinet would meet on Thursday, a public holiday.

"The government will be ready and set up by the end of this afternoon," Ayrault told journalists before heading off to the presidential Elysee Palace to put his cabinet suggestions to Hollande.

"What's essential, and that's why the cabinet will meet already on Thursday, is to get quickly to work to allow France to get back on its feet in a just way."

The Elysee said in a statement that the cabinet line-up would be announced at 4:00 pm (1400 GMT).

Like Hollande, who on Tuesday became France's first Socialist president since 1995, Ayrault has never previously held a ministerial post, but he is mayor of Nantes, a veteran parliamentarian and seen as a consensus builder.

Hollande has been criticised for naming Ayrault, who has a conviction for favouritism in awarding a local government contract, with opponents noting that as candidate he promised not to work with anyone with a criminal record.

He was named to the job of prime minister over other potential candidates, including Socialist Party leader and former labour minister Martine Aubry, who said she had agreed there was no place for her in a government led by Ayrault.

"In such a set-up, we agreed, amicably, that there was no sense in my being in government," Aubry told AFP. "There was no proposal and no negotiation."

"What's certain is that I will campaign for the parliamentary election. All three of us agreed that, under the circumstances, where I can be most useful is at the head of the Socialist Party to be close to Jean-Marc Ayrault," she said.

French media have been rife with speculation about other appointments, with Spanish-born Manuel Valls, 49, mooted as interior minister and Hollande's campaign chief Pierre Moscovici mentioned as foreign or finance minister.

Laurent Fabius, a former prime minister in the government of France's last Socialist president Francois Mitterrand, could get either the defence portfolio or the foreign ministry, observers said.

Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe could become justice minister, as could Christiane Taubira or Michel Sapin.

Hollande made an electoral promise to have just as many women as men in his government.

After meeting on Thursday, Ayrault's cabinet will help plan the Socialist strategy for their campaign to win a parliamentary majority in June legislative elections -- a key test for the party.

The Socialists must win a comfortable majority in parliament in order to pass legislation without requiring the support of smaller parties such as the Greens or Communists.

Sarkozy's UMP party is hoping to win seats from the Socialists, but is also under threat from the far-right National Front, whose leader Marine Le Pen scored almost 18 percent in the first-round of the presidential vote.

The political right has railed against Ayrault's nomination because of a 1997 conviction on favouritism charges after he awarded a municipal printing contract in Nantes to a businessman with links to the Socialist party.

While on the campaign trail, Hollande had vowed that he would not name anyone with a criminal record to his government.

"I will not have around me people who have been tried and convicted," Hollande said on April 14. "You can remind me of this statement if I fail to keep my word."

Ayrault's track record of keeping parliament's often-unruly bloc of Socialists in line fits with Hollande's vow to seek a consensus-building government.

And Ayrault's background as a Germanophile and German-language speaker should also prove useful in building ties with France's powerful neighbour and in tackling Hollande's goal of reshaping Europe's economic policies.

© 2012 AFP

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