Balladur lines up election team

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The Independent Online
Strasbourg - Edouard Balladur moved quickly yesterday to put together a campaign team for the presidential election, appointing Nicolas Sarkozy as his spokesman and Nicolas Bazire, head of his private office, as campaign manager, writes Andrew Mar shall.

Next week cross-party committees of support for Mr Balladur will be formed. Mr Sarkozy will be replaced as goverment spokesman by Philippe Douste-Blazy, Health Minister.

But the substance of Mr Balladur's campaign will be slower to arrive. The Prime Minister, the favourite to win the spring contest, has said he will not outline in detail his programme until mid to late-February. The main themes will be job creation, tackling the gap between government and voters, and dealing with problems of financing social provision, he says.

Mr Balladur held a meeting yesterday with ministers who back him in the election, underlining the split in the government between these and those who support Jacques Chirac, who founded Mr Balladur's RPR party. But it also showed the divergence between ministers from the UDF, the other coalition party, who are Balladurists and those wanting a UDF candidate.

This has led to speculation that the election of Mr Balladur could trigger a shift on the French right, with the formation of a wider conservative party uniting elements of both the RPR and UDF. However, Mr Balladur underlined that he does not want to see a dissolution of the national assembly after a presidential election, which would trigger a legislative election. Some analysts saw this as one way of allowing for a reshuffle in the parliamentary parties.

It is still unclear who will confront Mr Balladur in the first round of the elections in April. The spat in the Socialist party over who should represent it is becoming increasingly bitter, with exchanges between different candidates now being expressed openly. Lionel Jospin, former education minister and a potential candidate, yesterday attacked Henri Emmanuelli, the party's First Secretary, who is ready to stand.

Andrew Marr, page 19