Right-wing strengthen grip in French cabinet reshuffle
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French Prime Minister François Fillon emerged at the head of a more right-wing government Monday, as President Nicolas Sarkozy regrouped for a possible 2012 re-election bid.
Despite months of speculation in the run-up to the reshuffle, Sarkozy retained his big hitters, while shifting in favour of a loyal team more likely to fall in behind his government's deficit-cutting austerity agenda.
Under a strengthened Fillon, Finance Minister Christine Lagarde and Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux remained in their jobs, while several other Sarkozy loyalists were promoted.
Rightwing MP Nicolas Dhuicq
Meanwhile, centre-right Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo - the number two figure in the outgoing government and until recently a frontrunner to become prime minister himself - announced he was stepping down.
Rightwing MP Nicolas Dhuicq says Fillon was better suited for the job of prime minister.
"Fillon has done quite a good job and he has the right personality to deal with Mr. Sarkozy," he told RFI. "That’s why Borloo wasn't offered the job and I suppose that’s why he refused the other ministries and went his own way."
Popular Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, a former Socialist minister, was replaced by Gaullist Justice Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, and right-wing former prime minister Alain Juppé returned to take over defence.
In an early sign of splits in Sarkozy's support base, the outgoing defence minister, centre-right leader Hervé Morin, denounced the new cabinet line-up as a right-wing "campaign team" in which he had no place.
The outgoing head of Sarkozy's UMP party, Xavier Bertrand, was named labour minister, replacing fellow Sarkozy loyalist Eric Woerth, who has been implicated in a long-running party funding scandal.
Socialist leader Martine Aubry slammed the reshuffle Sunday as a "blunt refusal" to address the concerns of the French electorate, after two months in which hundreds of thousands have protested against Sarkozy's pension reforms.
"The French were anxiously expecting a change of policy," she said. "Tonight, it's clear - they were ignored".
The president, who came to power in 2007 and named a broad-based cabinet including centrists and former leftists, is now seen as seeking to consolidate his conservative base ahead of his upcoming re-election fight.
Dhuicq says Sarkozy is embracing the French Gaullist tradition, which emphasizes state intervention in the economy. "I would say the cabinet was more of a Gaullist one with the interests of the nation and the state at its heart," he said.
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