PARIS: French President Francois Hollande recalled his former partner Segolene Royal (pictured) from the political wilderness yesterday to join a new, streamlined government, days after his Socialist Party suffered an election drubbing.
Sunday’s stinging setback in nationwide municipal elections prompted Hollande to sack premier Jean-Marc Ayrault and replace him with tough-talking former interior minister Manuel Valls, 51.
The two wasted no time in reshaping the government, appointing two new faces in a cabinet of just 16 ministers — less than half the 38 in the previous line-up — faced with the mammoth challenges of bringing down unemployment and boosting almost non-existent growth whilst operating in tough budget constraints.
Royal, Hollande’s ex-partner and mother of his four children, was named environment and energy minister in a spectacular return to mainstream politics for the woman who lost the 2007 presidential election to Nicolas Sarkozy.
She will rank second, behind Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, in a ministerial line-up of eight men and eight women.
“I am very honoured,” she told France 3 television, pledging to work for economic recovery and jobs and make France “an environmental power”.
“Green growth can be a powerful motor for jobs, living standards and well-being,” she said.
The 60-year-old is one of the Socialists’ biggest hitters but was reportedly blocked from Hollande’s first cabinet because of hostility from Valerie Trierweiler, the president’s then girlfriend.
That obstacle has now been removed following Hollande’s separation from Trierweiler in January in the aftermath of the revelation of his affair with actress Julie Gayet. There was also major change at the Finance Ministry, in charge of sorting out an economy still blighted by stubbornly high unemployment and budget deficits after 22 months of Socialist rule.
Pierre Moscovici, who as finance and economy minister was unable to pull France out of the doldrums, was replaced by two contrasting politicians.
Former labour minister Michel Sapin, a supporter of budgetary rigour, was appointed to the powerful post of finance minister. Left-wing firebrand Arnaud Montebourg, a prominent critic of globalisation seen by some as anti-business, was named economy minister, a promotion from his former brief of industrial renewal.
Opposition leader Jean-Francois Cope slammed these nominations, pointing out that Sapin failed to bring down the country’s jobless numbers, which in February reached a record 3.34 million people.
Montebourg has made headlines with his outspoken criticism of EU-backed austerity measures supported by Sapin and of neighbour and ally Germany, which he has blamed for factory closures in France.