Nicolas Sarkozy has appointed a new government in a cabinet reshuffle which observers claim was clearly aimed at pleasing his conservative ranks before France’s 2012 presidential election.
Once-disgraced former prime minister Alain Juppe was put in charge of the Defence Ministry and given the number two spot behind prime minister Francois Fillon, who retained his job after submitting his government’s resignation on Saturday night.
The appointment positions Mr Juppe, a long-time standard bearer of the conservatives, for a political renaissance.
The biggest victim was the outreach effort President Sarkozy prided himself on when he took office in May 2007, bringing together leftists, centrists and figures representing diversity in an unusual governing coalition.
The Foreign Ministry went to Michele Alliot-Marie, the former justice minister. She replaced left-winger Bernard Kouchner, long known to be on his way out.
Ms Alliot-Marie was replaced in the Justice Ministry by Michel Mercier, one of two centrists remaining in a government streamlined from 37 to 30 ministers and bolstered by right-wingers.
Christine Lagarde kept the critical post of economy minister, an appointment sure to relieve markets and please other G20 members just as France takes over the reins of the group.
Mr Fillon, always notches above Mr Sarkozy in the polls but long seen as a silent workhorse at the president’s side, returned to the prime minister’s job clearly strengthened.
The new line-up drew criticism from rivals and at least one former collaborator.
Outgoing defence minister Herve Morin dismissed the new government as a “campaign team” tailored to the aspirations of Mr Sarkozy and his conservative UMP party before the election, while head of the rival Socialist Party Martine Aubry condemned the reshuffle as clannish.