French election '97: Women rise to top in new revolution

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In one respect, if no other, the new government and majority of the French left will be revolutionary. It will give French women a bigger part in the running of their country than ever before.

The number of women in the National Assembly has almost doubled from 32 to 62; the percentage has increased from 5.5 per cent, the lowest in Europe, to 10.7 per cent, slightly better than the European Union average.

The principal reason for the surge of women deputies is the decision of the Socialist Party, at the personal insistence of Lionel Jospin, to set a 30 per cent quota of female candidates. In the event, only 27 per cent of the Socialist contenders, and only 12 per cent of the successful ones, were women. But this was enough to put a huge dent in the National Assembly's tenacious record as a gentleman's club. There will be 41 Socialist women, compared to four in the last parliament.

It also seems likely that three of the most prominent members of the new government will be women. Martine Aubry, 46, daughter of Jacques Delors, and one of the most popular politicians in France, is tipped to become employment minister, in the front line of the Jospin government's battle to reduce the stubbornly high rate of joblessness. If, as tipped by some, Mr Delors also joins the Cabinet, they will become the first father-daughter team ever to sit in a French government. It would be difficult to find a precedent anywhere in the democratic world.

Catherine Trautmann, 46, mayor of Strasbourg, a rising star of the left after her energetic battles with the National Front, is expected to be chosen as minister for cities and racial integration. Her reputation as a successful enemy of the far-right was confirmed at the last FN campaign rally when the Jean-Marie Le Pen, the party's leader. produced an effigy of her head on a platter.

Elisabeth Guigou, 50, the former minister for Europe, who fought of an FN challenge in Avignon, is spoken of as a possible minister for social affairs.

It is also possible that the Green alliance with the Socialists will produce a woman as minister for transport and the environment, either the Greens' leader, Dominique Voynet or Marie-Christine Blandin, president of the Nord-Pas de Calais regional council.

Mr Jospin pledged yesterday to name his government by the end of the week. Other possible ministerial appointments include Jack Lang, former culture minister at education, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, economics spokesman, at the finance ministry, and Bernard Kouchner, leader of the radical Socialist splinter party, at health.