The number of serious candidates said to be vying for the job of culture minister is perhaps a measure of the importance that France accords to the position and a reflection of the exposure enjoyed by Jack Lang, the Socialist incumbent.
The three most likely are Jacques Toubon, a former secretary-general of the RPR Gaullist party and the mayor of the 13th arrondissement in Paris, Alain Carignon, the Gaullist mayor of Grenoble and Bernard Stasi, a senior and respected centrist deputy of the Union for French Democracy. The two parties combined are tipped for a landslide in National Assembly elections on 21 and 28 March.
The consensus is that the three candidates have all, by work in their constituencies or towns, shown their interest in culture. The post has been important since Charles de Gaulle first gave it to the novelist Andre Mauroy. But the main aim of the next minister will be to show how different he can be from Mr Lang.
First named Culture Minister after Francois Mitterrand's first election to the presidency in 1981, Mr Lang, 53, has held the post ever since, except for the two years of left-right 'cohabitation' when the conservatives were in power from 1986 to 1988.
Last year, the important education portfolio was added to his responsibilities and he became the second man in the government behind Pierre Beregovoy. Opinion polls regularly designate Mr Lang, who goes in for flamboyant suits and striped Thierry Mugler shirts, one of the most popular politicians, particularly among the young.
It is a popularity which in furiates his critics. They see him as having distorted the work of the Culture Ministry by favouring massive popular projects rather than devoting his efforts to safeguarding France's heritage and adding to its grandeur. His patronage, given his ministry's 14bn franc (pounds 1.7bn) budget, can make an artist's career.
The conservative Le Figaro magazine recently described Mr Lang's tenure as '12 years of vulgarity' and said his encouragement of rap music and graffiti artists in the poor suburbs was promotion of the trivial.
Last month, Bernard Pivot, the host of the television culture programme Bouillon de Culture, invited Michel Schneider, his former director of music who has written a book about Mr Lang's alleged excesses, to a set which included Mr Lang himself. Mr Lang denied an assertion by Mr Schneider that one of his last projects in office was to make a film about himself subsidised with public money.
Last week, the satirical weekly magazine, Le Canard Enchane, printed copies of documents to show that the film, Culture in France 1981-1992, was indeed being made.
No other ministry, however important, is likely to produce the passions that the culture portfolio promises. If the wilder talk about Mr Lang's term of office can be backed up with facts, it will be a useful weapon in the hands of the conservatives - who fear they will be tipped from office by a reversal in popularity at the next pres idential elections in 1995 - to illustrate what they see as the quirkiness of Socialist rule.
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