France

French government could face reshuffle after local election setback

French President François Hollande (R) with Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault,
French President François Hollande (R) with Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

France's Socialists are hinting at a government reshuffle after a slap in the face from the electorate in local council elections. And the right-wing opposition is piling on the pressure on President François Hollande to fire Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

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The leader of the mainstream right UMP, Jean-François Copé, this week called on Hollande to explain "who will be the next prime minister" before the second round of voting in municipal elections this Sunday.

The UMP and its allies won 47 per cent of the overall vote, nine points ahead of the Socialists, in last Sunday's first round, while the far-right Front National hopes to take control of several councils.

Hollande reacted by saying that he had got the message but has yet to explain what he intends to do about it.

Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius on Thursrday hinted that a reshuffle could be on the cards.

"François Hollande heard the warning, everyone heard it," he said. "He will take action after the second round but I'd be very surprised if we take any major decisions before the second round. As for the government, I think it should be more focused."

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Economy Minister Michel Sapin insisted that the government will not change its policies.

"We must stay on course," he told BFMTV. "We are listening to the French people. Our policy must be consistent, go faster and be stronger. That’s what we must do."

One victim of a reshuffle could be Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, under fire because of France's poor economic showing and the government's unpopularity.

According to sources close to the Elysée, he could be replaced by Fabius, Interior Minister Manuel Valls or National Assembly chairman Claude Bartolone.

But reshuffling the government could prove a tricky task - Green Housing Minister Cécile Duflot has said that she would step down if Valls is chosen to replace Ayrault.

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