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Tuesday 30 September 2014

Dissidents out in France reshuffle

Published 26/08/2014 | 19:01

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Francois Hollande

France has reshuffled its government to silence dissidents that had openly criticised Socialist President Francois Hollande's economic policy as he tries to pull the nation out of stagnation and steer it toward growth.

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Emmanuel Macron, who had served as top adviser in charge of economy, took over the Economy ministry, replacing Arnaud Montebourg who had railed against government policy as being too austere and even unjust to the French.

Finance Minister Michel Sapin stayed in place in the limited reshuffle announced today.

Other major ministers, including foreign affairs and defence ministers, also kept their jobs.

Mr Hollande asked all the ministers to say aloud whether they were in line with his policies and if not to leave the Cabinet, a top government official said.

Mr Macron, who had advised Mr Hollande until June 2014, is known for his pro-business ideas and is sure to send a positive signal to the European Union, which is pressuring France to get its finances in order.

France, the number two economy in the eurozone, has had no growth this year.

The Cabinet reshuffle came less than five months after the ambitious and popular prime minister Manuel Valls took office on April 1, steadfastly promoting Mr Hollande's agenda. The changes are aimed at creating a Cabinet that embodies Mr Hollande's policies.

Mr Hollande is the most unpopular president in recent French history, with ratings below 20%. He has promised to lower the country's 10% jobless rate, cut the deficit and rekindle growth.

However, Mr Montebourg, a swashbuckling minister meant to be among those at the forefront of that task, has instead become a critic.

His public remarks over the weekend criticising austerity - and supported by Education Minister Benoit Hamon who also lost his job - were seen by the government as going too far. Mr Valls demanded a change in the Cabinet, and Mr Hollande agreed. The culture minister, Aurelie Filippetti, also came out as a sympathiser to Mr Montebourg, and was removed.

Mr Hamon was replaced by Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the former sports and youth minister, and Ms Filippetti was replaced by Fleur Pellerin, former minster for commerce and tourism.

In addition to the ousted ministers, dozens of other Socialists are believed to consider Mr Hollande's economic policies a betrayal of the party's cause.

Mr Montebourg has criticised Mr Hollande's government of hurting the French economy by using austerity measures in keeping with Germany's demands and the EU's goal of reducing the deficit. Mr Hollande's goal is 50 billion euro (£40 million) in state spending cuts by 2017.

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