Sarkozy: give more honours to women

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Wanted in a tearing hurry: distinguished French women. Medals, with smart blue or red ribbons, guaranteed. Civil servants need not apply.

As part of his mission to blow the dust off French public life, President Nicolas Sarkozy has rejected the country's New Year honours list. The proposals put forward by ministries were, he said, too dominated by men and overstuffed with state employees and politicians.

Ministers are hurriedly working on new lists for the Lgion d'Honneur, awarded to "eminent" French and foreign citizens, and the Ordre Nationale du Mrite, awarded for "distinguished" achievement. Announcements are expected in the next few days.

In the case of the country's second ranking honour, the Ordr du Merite, the new list, already almost two months overdue, is expected to include equal numbers of men and women for the first time. The list of recipients of the Lgion d'Honneur, which was due on 1 January, may not be equally balanced but will contain more women than ever before. In future, President Sarkozy has made it clear, he wants to see parity between the sexes in the award of honours.

According to the newspaper Le Monde, President Sarkozy was also unhappy that the proposed lists contained too many civil servants and politicians and, implicitly, too many white people. He has asked for candidates who reflect "French diversity" and more people from businesses and charitable associations.

Overall, of 1,340 new nominations to the order, less than a third were women.

President Sarkozy has already promoted more women to senior cabinet positions than any previous French leader. He has also given government posts to three relatively young women from African or Arab backgrounds.