François Fillon: Velvet on the outside, steel on the inside

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The Independent Online

François Fillon, reappointed as French Prime Minister yesterday, is the antithesis of Nicolas Sarkozy. Where the President is brash and sometimes vulgar, Mr Fillon is elegant and courteous. Where Mr Sarkozy is confrontational, Mr Fillon is cautious.

Politicians who know the two men say Mr Sarkozy's tough exterior hides a sentimental interior. Mr Fillon is said to be a more typical French politician: velvet on the outside, poison and steel within.

Mr Fillon, 56, met his Welsh wife Penelope when they were students in Paris, and the couple has five children. He comes from the traditional wing of the Gaullist movement, and has maintained his haute bourgeois provincial roots.

Mr Sarkozy is an urban politician; his power base is in the "new money" of media and advertising.

Mr Fillon, regarded as a reformer with a social conscience, grew impatient with the relatively slow place of Mr Sarkozy's reforms. And Mr Sarkozy at times humiliated his Prime Minister, referring to him in terms suggesting a mere flunky. As Mr Sarkozy sank in the polls, Mr Fillon prospered – or at least held his own. This alone helped to turn their relationship sour.

But it turns out Mr Fillon was not just useful but had become, stealthily, unsackable. The parliamentary troops and grassroots of the ruling centre-right party made it clear to Mr Sarkozy that, if he wanted wholehearted backing for re-election in 2012, he must keep Mr Fillon.