New power couple joins French government

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France's first female foreign minister, the newly appointed Michele Alliot-Marie, is a trail-blazer in another domain: she represents half of the first couple to serve together in a French cabinet.

The 64-year-old former defence and justice minister, who replaced Bernard Kouchner at foreign affairs in Sunday's reshuffle, lives with partner Patrick Ollier, the new minister in charge of parliamentary relations.

Never before in the history of the France's Fifth Republic has a couple served together and -- if his past declarations are anything to go by -- 65-year-old Ollier is as surprised as anyone at the development.

"I'm alone in knowing I'll never be a minister, it's the drama of being in love," he lamented last month as he and other lawmakers from President Nicolas Sarkozy's right-wing UMP were contemplating the upcoming shake-up.

Then, some political commentators thought he had a chance at promotion, but only if his more successful long-term partner was sacked. In the end, the veteran politician was promoted, and saw her spouse moving up as well.

Ollier remains a junior minister, working under Prime Minister Francois Fillon's office, while Alliot-Marie is foreign minister and minister of state, an honorific that makes her the number three figure in the cabinet.

But her partner, an affable second-string politician from the Dordogne region of southwest France, was just happy to get a job at all.

"I have a career entirely separate to Michele's," he told RTL Radio. "A couple in the government, it's something new, that's true. Historically, it's the first time ever."

While Alliot-Marie and Ollier are the first power couple to serve as ministers in the same government, other romantic pairings have wielded influence in recent years.

Former Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal's partner Francois Hollande was leader of her party while she served as a minister, and they were still officially together during her losing campaign against Sarkozy.

They announced their split a few weeks later.

© 2010 AFP

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