New job for Joxe as left tries to hang on

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The Independent Online
PIERRE JOXE, one of Franois Mitterrand's closest lieutenants, resigned as France's Defence Minister yesterday to become president of the Cour des Comptes, which oversees all public spending.

His appointment, which was effective immediately, means that Mr Joxe, 58, who is not standing in the National Assembly elections this month, is guaranteed a senior and influential post until his retirement just as the ruling Socialists are expected to be defeated.

Pierre Beregovoy, the Prime Minister, took over the defence portfolio until the second round of the election on 28 March. Mr Joxe made a previously unannounced visit to Sarajevo on Tuesday to French troops in the UN force to take leave of the armed forces.

The news, announced in the government's Journal Officiel just before the weekly cabinet meeting, was immediately denounced by members of the conservative opposition as a move by President Mitterrand, who still has two years to serve, to extend his influence as the right takes over government. Francois Leotard, a leader of the centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF), said it showed that 'they perhaps accept losing the elections but they still want to keep power'.

The appointment, not without its professional logic since Mr Joxe started his career at the Cour des Comptes, was similar to the nomination of Robert Badinter, then Justice Minister and a long- time friend of the President, to head the Constitutional Court just before the 1986 parliamentary election. Then, as now, 'cohabitation' - conservative government under the Socialist President - was on the horizon.

Mr Joxe's new post represents only the tip of the iceberg in a flurry of movements in the public service. The diplomatic service is particularly affected, with about 30 changes coinciding with the elections. This is important since the President by tradition has control over foreign affairs and defence. The Elysee Palace has already linked up its computer system with the two ministries.

Mr Mitterrand made plain his determination to continue to play his part in diplomacy by announcing during a visit to Washington on Tuesday that he was meeting Cyrus Vance and Lord Owen, the UN mediators for Bosnia, and Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian president, in Paris today to discuss peace moves.

The musical chairs at the Foreign Ministry are interpreted as another indication that the current government is putting its candidates in high places. Among the moves are the appointment of Francois Nicoullaud, the head of Mr Joxe's office, as ambassador to Iran and Jean-Claude Cousseran, Mr Beregovoy's diplomatic adviser, as ambassador to Syria.

In another development, police said that a box of confidential files with details of the personal wealth of members of the 1988-91 Socialist government of Michel Rocard had disappeared from a safe in the National Assembly. French ministers are required to declare their financial status when they take office. The files contained information about many senior Socialists, including Mr Beregovoy, who was then finance minister. Police said there was no sign of a break-in.

The safe was in the office of Henri Emmanuelli, the National Assembly president. He will be replaced by a conservative, who would presumably have had access to the files, if the right wins the election.

(Photograph omitted)