New government convenes at first Cabinet meeting since shuffle

Click to follow
The Independent Online

New Finance Minister Laurent Fabius, a former prime minister resurrected in a government shuffle, will use his "rather extraordinary experience" to help define government policy, the head of the Socialist Party said Wednesday.

Francois Hollande, speaking on France-Inter radio, said that Fabius will have "the voice of the minister of economy and finance buto elaborating the government line, neither more nor less," Hollande said.

Fabius, former party rival of Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, is the No. 2 figure in the government. His appointment marks his return to the heart of political power after years on the sidelines.

Jospin shuffled his cabinet on Monday, leaving behind four ministers and bringing in eight new ones, including Fabius and former Culture Minister Jack Lang, appointed education minister.

The new Cabinet convened for the first time Wednesday, meeting with conservative President Jacques Chirac who shares power with the leftist coalition government.

Both Fabius and Lang, who once served as education minister but is best remembered as the flamboyant culture minister, are emblematic of the 14-year presidency of Francois Mitterrand.

Their arrival drew criticism from the conservative opposition that Jospin was simply positioning himself for municipal elections next year and legislative and presidential voting in 2002.

Hollande countered charges that the government is a replay of the past, saying that it is merely balanced between the old and new, and determined to carry out reforms.

"This government is balanced between those who symbolize the new generation and those hailing from our common history in the Socialist Party," Hollande said.

Jospin brought in the new ministers to refresh a government that, after nearly three years in power, seemed to be stumbling in the face of street protests and opponents' accusations of paralysis.

Despite the sweeping changes that included adding a fourth Communist minister and a second ecologist, Jospin has insisted he was making an "adjustment."

Daniel Vaillant, minister for parliamentary relations, underscored the point, saying a "family photo" - the traditional snapshot of a new cabinet - was given a pass because the change represented only new faces, not a new government.

"We know the hurdles ... We know the strategy. We know the projects," he said.

Despite criticism that the shuffle was a backward move, Jospin pledged on Tuesday to push through reforms promised when the left came to power in 1997.

It was trade union fury over attempts to reform education and the unwieldy tax collection system that pressed Jospin into making changes.

Hollande said the new team has an "obligation for (producing) results."

"We're not there just to be prudent ... but to be reformers, to change the daily life of the French," Hollande said.