The French Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, announced major changes in his government last night, less than six months after taking office. Four new ministers were appointed, three were transferred, and the number of posts was sharply reduced. The changes were concentrated in areas of social, budgetary and industrial policy, where there had been open disagreement.
In a nationwide television broadcast, Mr Juppe said that his government was "renewed, streamlined, more homogeneous and more united". But he also warned of unpopular decisions ahead. "Today's debts," he said, signalling a more rigorous approach to public spending, "are tomorrow's taxes."
News of the imminent reshuffle broke yesterday morning, when it was announced that Mr Juppe had submitted his resignation and that of his government to President Chirac, making it the shortest-lived French government on record. Mr Juppe was immediately reappointed Prime Minister and asked to form a new government.
By the end of the day, all the most senior ministers - economy, justice, interior, foreign affairs and defence - had been retained, but 13 others lost their jobs, including 8 of the 12 female ministers whose appointment in May had been hailed as "feminising" French politics.
The main winner from yesterday's changes was Jacques Barrot, 58, who takes over a reconstituted super-ministry responsible for health, social affairs and his previous portfolio of employment. Mr Juppe had experimented with dispersing the responsibilities among separate ministries, but has reverted to the traditional formula.
Mr Barrot distinguished himself at employment by taking a firm line with public sector unions after announcing a pay freeze for 1996.
Several supporters of former prime minister Edouard Balladur were brought back into government, including Alain Lamassoure - Mr Balladur's Europe minister - who becomes budget minister and government spokesman, and Dominique Perben, who takes responsibility for the public sector and institutional reform. Over the past month a distinct group of Balladurist MPs has been making life difficult for the government, especially in the budget debates, where they forced through several amendments and threatened more.
The female ministers, who had come under increasing attack for "lack of experience" and a tendency to step out of line, were conspicuous losers. Elisabeth Hubert, the health minister, had blotted her copybook by announcing a steep increase in "hotel" charges for hospital stays before discussion of social security reforms was complete. As a qualified doctor, she was regarded, too, as being too sympathetic to the doctors' lobby.
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