John Lichfield: Najat Vallaud-Belkacem - the young Muslim woman at the heart of France's modern regime

World Focus

Share

Thirty years ago, a four-year-old Moroccan girl emigrated to France to join her father. Yesterday, she became the official "face" of the new French government.

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, 34, is the youngest member of the cabinet which assembled yesterday under the chairmanship of President François Hollande. She is the Minister for Women's Affairs and will be the official spokeswoman for the government and, therefore, the mouthpiece for "Hollandism".

The first Socialist French government for 10 years is stuffed – some say over-stuffed – with messages and symbols. It is the first government in France, or any large democracy, to be perfectly gender-balanced – 17 men and 17 women. Mr Hollande and his Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, have also reached out to racial minorities, youth and the Eurosceptic wing of the French left.

There is no message more striking than that embodied by Ms Vallaud-Belkacem, after an election in which immigration and Islam were used as cudgels by both the far right and by the centre-right president, Nicolas Sarkozy.

Ms Vallaud-Belkacem, beautiful, eloquent, ever-smiling, was one of the stars of the Hollande campaign. She has enjoyed a rapid rise in a political system, and a party, which is generally ill-disposed towards youthful politicians.

A married mother of twins, Ms Vallaud-Belkacem is a "non-practising Muslim". After winning scholarships to elite colleges, she calls herself a "pure product of the [egalitarianism] of the [French] Republic". She insisted yesterday, however, that she wanted to be judged on her abilities, not on her "triple symbolism" as a young female of North African origin.

The cabinet is taking a 30 per cent pay cut in a show of solidarity with voters and strict rules have been imposed on travel expenses and the acceptance of gifts while in office. President Hollande and Mr Ayrault also made pointed choices in their diplomatic and European team. Both the new Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, and the Europe Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, campaigned for the non side in the referendum in 2005 which rejected the proposed European constitution. Mr Hollande campaigned strenuously for a oui vote. By placing two nonistes in the foreign ministry, he hopes to heal an open wound on the French left. He is also warning his European partners that the new Socialist administration will seek to steer the European Union away from free-market dogmatism towards a more interventionist approach.

In both areas, the Hollande-Ayrault government could come into conflict with London and Berlin. President Hollande has balanced these choices by putting a "liberal" Socialist, Pierre Moscovici, in the Finance Ministry.

Fresh faces: Hollande's new cabinet

Christiane Taubira, Justice Minister

Celebrated for her flights of oratory and volcanic temper, Ms Taubira was raised in Cayenne, in French Guiana, by a single mother of six. A trained sociologist and economist, her appointment to head the justice system took pundits by surprise.

Pierre Moscovici, Finance Minister

A long-time supporter of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, he became Hollande's campaign manager after DSK's disgrace. One of the few French politicians with good English, he is on the reformist, market-friendly, pro-European right of his party.

Marisol Touraine, Health and Social Affairs Minister

After two decades as a backroom official, Ms Touraine has one of the most sensitive jobs in the cabinet. An expert on welfare, she must deliver the promised "reform of Sarkozy's reform" of the state pension system – without busting the budget.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Commercial Property Solicitor - Bristol

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM A high qual...

DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, Linux, Shell, Bash)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, L...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The power of anonymity lies in the freedom it grants

Boyd Tonkin
Rebel fighters walk in front of damaged buildings in Karam al-Jabal neighbourhood of Aleppo on August 26, 2014.  

The Isis threat must be confronted with clarity and determination

Ed Miliband
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone