Saturday 21 October 2017

Sarkozy boosts rivals in botched reshuffle

Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo: Reuters
Nicolas Sarkozy. Photo: Reuters

John Lichfield in Paris

PRESIDENT Nicolas Sarkozy ended eight months of shilly-shallying on a promised radical reshaping of the French government yesterday by returning to the past. His new prime minister will be his old prime minister, Francois Fillon, who had become too popular to sack.

Mr Fillon (56) was theatrically dismissed by Mr Sarkozy on Saturday night and then reinstated yesterday. Just a month ago, the prime minister had distanced himself from Mr Sarkozy's swing to the authoritarian right and appeared destined for the chop. Now he looks set to become the first prime minister to serve throughout a presidential term since the creation of the Fifth Republic half a century ago.

Other ministerial changes were still under discussion last night and will probably be announced today. But in a move that will further darken Mr Sarkozy's mood, the centrist environment minister, Jean-Louis Borloo, who had been thought likely to succeed Mr Fillon, flounced out of the government last night despite offers of a senior role.

Liberty

He was offered positions including foreign minister, but said he wanted to "reclaim his liberty" and promote his own "values

. . . including social cohesiveness". This implied that he might run for president himself in 2012 and accuse Mr Sarkosy of taking a confrontational, divisive approach to pension reform and other social policies.

The government for the final 17 months of Mr Sarkozy's presidency will have fewer ministers but also fewer ministerial changes than expected and will largely consist of "big beasts" from the president's own centre-right party.

Although originally intended to strengthen the unpopular Mr Sarkozy before the 2012 election, the limited and ill-tempered reshuffle may reinforce the image of an erratic president whose words are often louder than his actions.

Apart from Mr Borloo, the highest profile casualty is likely to be Bernard Kouchner, the foreign minister poached from the Socialists three years ago. His almost certain departure all but ends Mr Sarkozy's policy of "ouverture" to the left. (© Independent News Service)

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