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

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Recruitment Genius: Invoicing Clerk

£14500 - £17500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are contractors to...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Hillary Clinton’s private messages reveal the banality of email

Alice Jones
 

We celebrate the power of a few women, yet ignore the 9,000 who are locked away

Janet Street-Porter
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy