Jospin picks clean team to wipe out legacy of scandal

But Delors to turn down ministerial role and stay as adviser on EU
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The Independent Online
The Socialist leader and new French Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, is today expected to signal a break with the financial scandals of both the left and the right by announcing a cleaner-than-clean cabinet.

Mr Jospin is determined to exclude anyone who is under investigation, or even suspicion, for financial wrong-doing. As part of his drive to set a new, less imperial style of government, he will also insist his ministers abandon the French habit of accumulating regional and national political posts. No one will be allowed to be both minister and mayor of a town or city.

The great unknown last night was whether the government would include Communist ministers. Mr Jospin and the Communist leader, Robert Hue, are keen that it should. Mr Hue was last night trying to win over doubtful colleagues who believe a formal coalition with the Socialists would be an ideological, or tactical, error.

It now seems likely that the former European Commission president, Jacques Delors, will turn down the chance to be minister for foreign and European affairs. Socialist officials say Mr Delors, 71, has informed Mr Jospin that he would prefer to remain a background adviser on relations with the European Union, so he may still return to the scene as an eminence grise. The resurfacing of Mr Delors will delight those who regard him as one of the last inpsirational figures committed to European integration.

One of the first leading Socialist figures to visit Mr Jospin yesterday after he moved into the prime ministerial mansion, the Matignon palace, was Laurent Fabius, who was briefly prime minister in the 1980s.

It is believed that Mr Fabius may be offered the job of parliamentary president (a more political post than Speaker of the House of Commons) or Foreign Minister.

Other leading Socialists tipped to be included in the cabinet are Dominique Strauss-Kahn (finance) and Martine Aubry, Mr Delors' daughter (employment). Mr Jospin will also appoint France's first Green minister, or even two Green ministers. The Greens, who made an electoral pact with the Socialists and won eight seats, have agreed to be part of the government but made it clear yesterday that they expect at least "one large, technical ministry" and one smaller post.

The appointments to the foreign and defence ministries will be examined with special attention. These are two areas in which the constitution gives the President direct influence and it is expected that Mr Jospin will appoint people who will meet the approval of Jacques Chirac. Mr Delors would have been a useful choice, since he qualifies these days as virtually a national treasure. However, it seems the former Commission President was reluctant to upset this status by getting involved in what may be messy negotiations on the future of one of his own creations, the European single currency.

The defence appointment may give some clues as to how the Jospin government will deal with another piece of unfinished business - France's declaration that it may rejoin the military structures of Nato. The Socialists criticised this move in opposition. President Chirac himself seems to have lost some of his initial enthusiasm. The likelihood is that a decision, due this month, will be postponed.

Another open question is whether Mr Jospin, known as one of the cleanest men in French politics, will use his new office to pursue vigorously the financial scandals bubbling away in the centre-right parties. The new Prime Minister has promised to strengthen the independence of the judiciary. This may speed up several investigations which were held back by the former government.

Mr Jospin has been quoted as saying in private, however, that he sees no point in letting all the skeletons fall out of the centre-right's cupboard, as it would only serve the interests of the far-right National Front.

Paris - The Paris prosecutor's office opened an investigation into suspected abuses in public works contracts under the Gaullist-led Paris regional council, Reuter reports.

They said the investigation targeted contracts awarded by the Ile de France regional council, headed by Michel Giraud, a senior member of Mr Chirac's Gaullist RPR party.

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