Reviewing the Government

The new cabinet, the first appointed by Jean-Marc Ayrault, Prime Minister, in consultation with newly elected President François Hollande, has been announced.  Here’s a post-by-post review of “Ayrault 1” and what it tells us about the future direction of the new administration.

Ministers of State are senior Ministers in the cabinet (think of them as Vice-Prime Ministers), an honorific title given to an old stalwart or an ambitious young pretender.  It is striking that there are none in Ayrault 1 – even Fabius (a former Prime Minister himself in the 1980s) has not been elevated.

The Ministers sitting in cabinet are:

Defense: Jean-Yves Le Drian – an experienced politician with a habit of moving between currents within the Socialist Party, Le Drian is the longtime President of the Brittany region.  Until today his experience of defence matters has largely gone unnoticed.

Foreign Affairs: Laurent Fabius – an experienced old hand who has got the job he hunkered after.  He might however find himself frustrated with simply carrying the President’s bags at international summits, which this role can sometimes entail.

Environment: Nicole Bricq – Senator and public finances specialist, Bricq is one of the older members of the cabinet at 64 and a long-standing local politician in the Greater Paris region.  Her name was linked with a string of different mid-level ministerial posts.  The fact that an individual who is not a Green Party member or an avowed ecologist may raise eyebrows.

Justice: Christiane Taubira – the first black woman to hold the post, Taubira is also, unusually for this position, neither a lawyer nor a judge, being an economist by training.  She is independent minded (and indeed was a member briefly of the Guyanese Independent party before joining the Left Radicals) and ran for President in 2002.  She will need to work closely and well with Interior.

Interior: Manuel Valls – long tipped for this position, the Socialists’ “Mr Security” is mayor of a gritty Paris suburb, and also a high-profile example of social mobility, coming from a family of poor Spanish immigrants.

Economy and Finance: Pierre Moscovici – the highly considered former Director of the President’s election campaign is a surprise choice for this slightly truncated post (Industry has been separated from its scope).  It indicates a desire to impress and reassure financial markets and a determination to remain prudent with public money.

Work, Employment and Social Dialogue: Michel Sapin – something of a technocrat, Sapin is nonetheless an economic big-hitter and should reassure the unions that they are not being fobbed off by someone who won’t have the President’s ear.  The Health Ministry has been separated from this role and a new emphasis on social dialogue is indicated in its name.  His biggest task will be this Summer’s social dialogue conference.

Education: Vincent Peillon – a newly focussed ministry for the Socialists’ education expert, Peillon shows mastery of his brief and has worked hard to gain the respect of the teachers’ unions.  Whether he will make any progress on modernising France’s archaic school timetable is another matter.  This is a priority brief for Hollande who made much of eduction reform in his campaign and a high-profile post that is also Peillon’s “dream job”.

Budget: Jerôme Cahuzac – in charge of steering through the government’s most important piece of legislation, Cahuzac was thought of as having a shot at his new boss’s job (Finance) but proved a less adept politician than technocrat during the campaign.  Now a deputy ministry, this role has also been reduced, with public accounts, the civil service and institutional reform being siphoned off from the role.

Institutional Reform and Decentralisation: Marylise Le Branchu – a former Justice Minister in the 1990s, Le Branchu has long been a regional bigwig in Brittany and therefore is well placed to push through the desired “next step” in decentralising the French state.  She is also a noted euthanasia campaigner.

Higher Education: Geneviève Florasso – a low profile politician from Grenoble, she flirted with the private sector in the early 2000s and has not demonstrated a particular interest in the university sector, nor research (which has been shorn from the title of the ministry but apparently not its scope).  One of the most successful reforms of the Sarkozy administration was the freedoms given to universities in their operation and staffing.  Florasso should be careful not to tread on a reform that is largely regarded by the university sector has a stunning success.

Agriculture: Stéphane Le Foll – a close advisor to the President, Le Foll has plenty of experience at the European Parliament and therefore should know the intricacies of the European policy process, which largely consumes this brief.  Planning has been removed from this brief and given to the current General Secretary of the Greens, which should cause some interesting interactions between the two ministers.

Territorial Equality: Cécile Duflot – the down-to-earth and likeable head of the Greens enters government as anticipated and in a position that is not the Environment brief (although this rebranded Planning department has the potential, if used properly, to have a huge scope).

Culture: Aurélie Filippetti – a member of the Green party until 2006, Filippetti covered the Culture brief during the campaign.  At the tender age of 38, she is possibly the first Culture Minister, a brief that covers most importantly the media and, to some extent overlaps with the Digital Economy brief, to have a Facebook account that she actually uses.

Social Affairs and Health: Marisol Touraine – the pensions expert of the Socialists has the anticipated brief, coupled with the eternal ministerial orphan, Health.  She will need to tackle the mess than is the French Pension system, whilst carefully handling social partner negotiations with Sapin.

Productive Recovery: Arnaud Montebourg – a somewhat daft name for the Industry department, Montebourg sees himself as being able to bring together businesses and finance to launch reindustrialisation projects.  Whether he succeeds is more likely to result from luck than the business skills of this Criminal Lawyer who has never held a commercial position in his 49 years.

Cities: François Lamy – downgraded to a deputy ministry, Lamy is Segolene Royal’s closest adviser.  This post is largely meaningless without a chunky budget, but Lamy is likely to pick up an element of the Greater Paris building projects (including a huge transport network to be built) but may have to share the glory with Duflot.

Sport and Young People: Valérie Fourneyron – a strange choice for Young People given the high-profile that Hollande gave the theme in his campaign.  For Sport, she has had a longstanding interest, participating in the (first) effort to clean up French sport in the fight against drugs in the 1980s and 1990s.

Parliamentary Relations: Alain Vidalies – a backroom job similar to the parliamentary whip in the UK or legislative affairs in the US, he has been a deputy for over 20 years and will need every relationship he has built up over that time in his new job steering through the Socialists’ ambitious legislative programme.

Educational Success: Georges-Pau Langevin – the second black woman in the cabinet, Langevin is a respected Parisian deputy.  A new position, no one seems to know what Educational Success is supposed to mean…

Overseas Territories: Victorin Lurel – the sole black man in the cabinet, Lurel is a longstanding Guadeloupian politician who has long dreamed of this job.  His success will depend on an ability to deal with the powerful unions in the Caribbean territories and manage the desire for independence that rocks Polynesia.

SMEs and Innovation: Fleur Pellerin – taking over much of the Digital Economy brief, Pellerin was something of a revelation of the campaign.  Born in Korea, she is the first French-Asian to become a government minister and masters her brief with an admiral humanity.  She and Filippetti get on famously, which will be essential to their success (until they become rivals of course…).

Women’s Rights: Najat Vallaud Belkacem – a high-profile figure of Moroccan origin, Belkacem came to national attention during Royal’s 2007 run for the Presidency, when she was spokesperson.  In a new position, she will need to quickly make her mark, otherwise she risks sinking without trace back into the political background.  A clumsy decision of the Constitutional Council just before the election, when it annulled the French harassment laws, could be the perfect opportunity.

Social Economy: Benoit Harmon – a leading light of the left of the party, and loyal lieutenant of Aubry, Harmon seems well suited to a newly created role that will largely involve engaging associations and helping coordinate their action.  His centralising tendencies could however clash with associative life and it is unclear whether his somewhat volatile temperament can charm as well as bulldoze.

Europe: Bernard Cazeneuve – a lawyer by profession and mayor of Cherbourg, Cazeneuve was instrumental in keeping the EPR experimental nuclear reactor project from being cancelled.  His mastery of European affairs may however be more legalistic than this role, which largely consists of coordinating his own colleagues, requires.

A smattering of other positions, Tourism, Veterans’ Affairs, Overseas Development (always a strangely side-lined role in France), Older People, Disabled People… are occupied by largely autonomous Socialist party faithful.

What strikes the observer (even a benevolent one such as me) is the balance in political sensibilities of the overall cabinet, but within that balance, a clear core of Hollandists – close and somewhat haphazardly chosen loyalists who owe Hollande much and are likely to toe the line.  Some outliers, such as Taubira and Fabius, exist, but by in large this is a cabinet that is not likely to provoke internal disputes over policy (even if some of the personalities will grate).

The cabinet is also larger than transitional cabinets tend to be – remember that the government will be dissolved and reconstituted after the legislative elections in June.  Whilst many members will be reappointed to their positions in the event that the Socialists command a majority, tweaks may be made depending on the first public outings of the new team.

Overwhelmingly however this is a new team of faces.  The vast majority have never held government office before (no bad thing…) and to judge them, France will have to get to know this new cast of characters.  As we will.

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