Newish Brooms

A new government withLa-photo-de-famille-du-nouveau-gouvernement-Valls lots of familiar faces, and indeed, familiar faces in the same roles.  Such was the general surprise caused by the new team on the left, particularly as the team appeared to be almost entirely composed by the President, rather than his assertive Prime Minister.  With so many old faces, how much has the reshuffle really changed the French Government?Let’s talk about the new arrivals first.  Segolene Royal returns to government as Environment Minister, a role she previously held in the 1990s.  Her talent for sensing what the base was thinking and who has spent much time for the past two years warning the government from the sidelines about rising taxes and mixed messages, Royal continues to be extremely popular within the party.  Her presence will ruffle feathers but she is knowlegdable about green issues and she is experienced at parrying with journalists, as her first media appearance showed.

Francois Rebsamen has longed sought the Interior Ministry and will make do with the Employment and Social Dialogue portfolio.  The longstanding mayor and senator for Dijon, he is firmly on the right of the party and a loyal friend to Hollande and Royal.  His job will be to continue to keep enough of the reformist unions signing deals with employers’ organisations to give Hollande’s new business friendly policies the balance that they need to be effective.

Now those going up.  Benoit Hamon becomes, quite unexpectedly, the Education Minister. Hollande’s left wing concience is now in a key and high profile post, after a successful job as Consumer Minister in the previous government, where he pushed through a worthy and useful piece of legislation covering myriad technical topics, but has the merit of making consumers’ lives easier.  The advantage of Hamon in this position is that he can hold his own with the powerful teachers’ unions, be the voice of the left in a government where little of the left of the party remains, and will be so busy managing the unions that his chances of intervening in the more contentious economic policies will be limited.

Bernard Cazeneuve becomes Interior Minister, apparently as the least objectionable of the other options, Rebsamen (who Valls vetoed) and Jean-Jacques Urvoas (who Hollande vetoed).  A solid performer in his previous role as Budget Minister, he is the archytypal safe-pair-of-hands in a potentially explosive Ministry.  He does however have the ability to cause major issues to become boring, which is perhaps what the Interior Ministry could do with for a few years.

Going up, but less vertiginously, Michel Sapin and Arnaud Montebourg form an interesting duo, with the first split of the Finance and Economics role in the Fifth Republic’s history.  Spain takes Finance and Public Accounts, Montebourg adds to his Industry portfolio digital issues and the Economy.  In practice little of what the latter used to do will change – his is not so much as a portfolio, but a calling.  Sapin is there to find the money, and control the more extreme outbursts of his new colleague.  Having dealt with the unions effectively at the Employment Ministery, Sapin should be able to deal with Montebourg.

Finally, Sylvia Pinel becomes Minister for Housing.  Having flopped in her role as Small Business Minister, where the only Law that carries her name was totally rewritten by a Socialist Deputy following outrage from small business at Pinel’s corporatist proposals, her presence at such a crucial post is disappointing.  But it is the price that Hollande must pay to keep the Left Radical party within the majority (Pinel is the dauphine of the Radical leader).  The Housing crisis in France merits better treatment though and one can hope that the Prime Minister, who knows the problems well due to his long years as Mayor of a new-town on the outskirts of Paris, scarred by 1970s planning errors, personally gets involved in this sector.

The others in the government are broadly doing what they did before.  Aurelie Filippetti and Marylise Lebranchu stay in post, despite not having shined.  Lebranchu in particular will have to push through major territorial reforms announced by Valls that she has publily disagreed with in the past.  Laurent Fabius remains at the Foreign Ministry, clearly feeling that there is work to be done (although the appointment of Andre Vallini under Lebranchu as a junior Minister might indicate that succession planning is underway), as does Jean-Yves Le Drian at Defense, where his performance was so solid legend has it that Hollande offered him the post of Prime Minister, which he declined.  Fleur Pellerin, who shined as Digital Minister now moves to Trade and Tourism, a sideways promotion, but one that is respectable and should help her ensure her ascension in the event of any governmental accidents between now and 2017.  The biggest surprise, perhaps most for herself, was that Christiane Taubira kept her job at Justice.  Having brilliantly pushed through Equal Marriage, she is now engaged in reforming the way that prisoners are dealt with at the end of their term – a worthy, if difficult to sell, pursuit.  She allegedly demanded guarantees from Valls that her reform would be put to Parliament this year.

Even in this shrunk-down government, the Overseas Territories portfolio remains a distinct Ministry, rather than being downgraded to a junior department or swallowed up by the Interior.  Perhaps the Guadeloupenne, George Pau-Langevin, can make her mark here – she remained firmly in her Minister’s shadow at Education.

One arrival in the government however has caused outrage, both on the left and the right: Harlem Desir leaves the General Secretaryship of the Socialist Party to become junior Europe Minister.  More of that here.

Those shown the door include Pierre Moscovici at Finance, who I met yesterday at a party event and who looked relieved if somewhat knackered, but who is gearing up to become France’s next EU Commissioner, Francois Lamy, the hardworking Cities Minister who impressed many by his straightforwardness by claiming at La Rochelle in 2012 that perhaps the best thing he could do was very little, and Vincent Peillon, the controversial Education Minister, who will now return to the European Parliament.  And of course the two Green Ministers, Pascal Confin and Cecile Duflot, who walked out due to their political differences with Manuel Valls.  Their ministerial sulk warrants a post to itself here.

Given the stability in the makeup of the cabinet, and the junior ministers which include many in the same positions, simply now downgraded from the cabinet, how much has really changed?  Much will change due to the top job being held by Valls.  The inclusion of big hitters such as Royal and Rebsamen, the promotion of Cazeneuve, and the reduction of the number of voices around the table should lead to more coherence between Government positions.  Ultimately this reshuffle is unsatisfying in its stability, but for the purposes of continuity of policy (many of which are in the process of being tweaked, following the launch of the responsibility pact, and others which are perfectly proper, such as the focus on social dialogue) it makes sense.  Once again, Hollande fails from a stylistic point of view, but substantively this Government has “punch”, as Montebourg said.  We must all hope that he is right.


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