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No change of prime minister as Sarkozy starts government reshuffle

AFP/Jacques DEMARTHON

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has reappointed François Fillon as Prime Minister in a long-awaited government reshuffle. Outgoing Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, who had hoped to take the post, quit the government Sunday evening.

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It came as no surprise when Fillon presented his government’s resignation on Saturday evening. Sarkozy first announced that he would reshuffle the cabinet after a drubbing in March's regional elections and confirmed that intention in June.

Accusations of corruption, political skullduggery and dirty tricks against some ministers have undermined the government.

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AFP / TF1

At that time it looked to many as if Fillon’s days as premier were numbered.

His poll ratings have been consistently higher than Sarkozy’s, which have plummeted to 30 per cent as opposition to his domineering style has grown and his pension reform has let loose a wave of strikes and protests.

Fillon stands by the government’s programme and insists on the need to cut the budget deficit. But his more downbeat manner has meant that Sarkozy has taken most of the political flak for the government’s more unpopular measures.

The PM’s relative popularity boosted speculation that Sarkozy would demote him for fear that he would become a rival in the race to be the right’s candidate in the 2012 presidential election.

And Borloo, who is a member of a small centrist party, began to look like a hopeful, giving numerous media interviews covering subjects that ranged from his consensual appeal to his famously scruffy haircuts.

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But members of Sarkozy’s own UMP reportedly made their opposition to Borloo clear and Sarkozy is expected to increase the weight of his own party in the new cabinet.

A third man appeared as the reshuffle approached.

That was former Prime Minister and current Mayor of Bordeaux Alain Juppé. Despite the fact that his programme as prime minister in 1995 unleashed the country’s last big wave of general strikes, he is much admired by right-wing politicians and op-ed writers at home and abroad.

Ahead of the reshuffle, Juppé made it clear that being a mayor and a minister would not be too much work for him and he is still expected to bag a cabinet seat, probably at defence.

Following the signing of the controversial pensions reform into law and an increase in law and order and anti-immigration rhetoric, a softening of the government’s political line seems pretty much ruled out.
 

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