Cohabitation begins with a honeymoon: Simone Veil proves a happy choice to take over a Paris hot seat. Julian Nundy reports

THERE WERE two reasons to be happy, said Bernard Tapie, minister for towns in the defeated Socialist government. The first was that the new conservative leaders were keeping the portfolio dealing with the troubled suburbs; the second was that it had gone to Simone Veil.

The occasion was the passation des pouvoirs, when French ministers hand over their ministries. They are usually tense occasions. Last week, as the humiliated Socialists left office, they were anything but tense, and the happiest ceremony of all was Mrs Veil's.

The centrist Mrs Veil, now 65 and one of France's most popular politicians, was back in government for the first time since 1979. Of the three portfolios she took over, towns and health were from the most mediatique members of the previous government: Mr Tapie, the businessman who is chairman of the Olympique Marseille football club, and Bernard Kouchner, the founder of the Medecins sans Frontieres charity. The third, social affairs, had been held by Rene Teulade.

Mrs Veil, who spent her adolescence in Auschwitz, to which she was deported with other French Jews, is a symbol for tolerance in modern France. As health minister under President Valery Giscard d'Estaing from 1974 to 1979, she introduced the law legalising abortion. She left that government to become the president of the first directly elected European Parliament.

She is a fervent opponent of the far-right, anti-immigration National Front. When Jean-Marie Le Pen, the Front's leader, suggested on television last September that President Francois Mitterrand's prostate operation had been timed to coincide with the Maastricht referendum, Mrs Veil attacked the charge as 'vile'.

Her appointment to the streamlined cabinet of Edouard Balladur was no surprise. What did make news was that she became the senior minister in the government, second only to Mr Balladur - an acknowledgement of the affection she commands.

France has just lived through one of the most remarkable weeks in its modern political history - even though everyone knew what was going to happen months in advance.

As expected, the alliance of the Gaullist RPR party and the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF) won National Assembly elections last Sunday by a landslide. Edouard Balladur, 63, tipped for the Prime Minister's post 18 months ago, was indeed appointed. What astonished the public was that those involved behaved so well. The politicians, on whom the French blame their ills and whom they consider corrupt and sleazy, were dignified.

The conservatives were anything but triumphalist as the returns showed they would take 484 (83 per cent) of the National Assembly's 577 seats. In defeat, the Socialists took on a new stature as they quietly expressed their determination to uphold the ideals of the left and were heard out with respect by their conservative opponents.

The tone was set on Monday, when Mr Mitterrand made his first post-election statement. If he had followed the pattern of 1986, when France had its first 'cohabitation' - a conservative cabinet under the Socialist President - he would not actually have named the new prime minister, but only indicated the likely candidate, leaving the appointment until the next day.

This time, he went straight to the point and, paying tribute to the new man's 'competence', named Mr Balladur. When the new Prime Minister went to the Elysee Palace straight after the broadcast, a microphone was placed on the steps for him to announce his acceptance, an unusual courtesy. The normal protocol would have been for Mr Balladur to make his first statement from the Prime Minister's office.

Mr Mitterrand's gesture made it clear that he respected the strength of the new government, although he stressed he would keep the President's traditional right of overseeing defence and foreign affairs. If Mr Mitterrand behaved well, however, the hero in the good manners stakes was Mr Balladur. Even Le Monde, hardly a friend of the Gaullists in recent years, summed up his week with the front-page headline: 'Faultless'. After the first cabinet meeting under Mr Mitterrand, the word used to describe the atmosphere was 'courteous'.

Often mocked for his old-style courtliness, Mr Balladur was evidently anxious to reassure the President that he would be respected, doubtless with the quid pro quo that Mr Mitterrand would let the government work without hindrance. If the pattern of the early days persists, Mr Mitterrand could serve out the last two years of his term until 1995 in harmony and dignity.

Even the new National Assembly's opening day on Friday was smooth, despite fears of chaos with 100 deputies sitting for the first time. Its first task was to elect a president, or speaker. The doyen of the assembly, Charles Ehrmann, 82, asked deputies not to let the voting run the maximum three rounds, but to give an absolute majority earlier - 'I have a plane to catch.' In the event, Philippe Seguin, the Gaullist leader of the anti-Maastricht campaign last year, was elected in the second round.

Behind this election, although few deputies would admit it, was an obvious attempt to contain Mr Giscard d'Estaing of the UDF, who had dropped hints that he was interested in the job.

Settling scores after their massive election defeat, Socialist Party barons ousted First Secretary Laurent Fabius yesterday in a bitter split that may torpedo hopes to rebuild the French left, AP reports. The party's executive committee voted to install a provisional leadership, meaning Mr Fabius and other leaders no longer held their jobs. Before the vote was taken Mr Fabius refused to shake the hand of Michel Rocard, the Socialist front-runner for the presidency, who backed the attempt to remove him.

(Photograph omitted)

News
i100
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
The Prostate Cancer Foundation is returning all donations made by Redditors 'in honour' of Jennifer Lawrence and her naked photos
news

Website users raised funds after Jennifer Lawrence nude photo leak

News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
advertising
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Sport
England captain Wayne Rooney during training
FOOTBALLNew captain vows side will deliver against Norway for small crowd
News
peopleJustin Bieber charged with assault and dangerous driving after crashing quad bike into a minivan
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Radamel Falcao poses with his United shirt
FOOTBALLRadamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant in Colombia to Manchester United's star signing
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Randstad Education require a Drama speci...

Science Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Science Teacher - Full Time - Lo...

Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Randstad Education is looking for a Seco...

General Cover Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are looking f...

Day In a Page

Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

‘We knew he was something special’

Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York