Sarkozy rejigs French government, promotes friend
French President Nicolas Sarkozy unveiled a light reshuffle of his cabinet, promoting a close friend to the powerful labour ministry.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy unveiled a light reshuffle of his cabinet on Thursday, promoting a close friend to the powerful labour ministry and a former left-winger to take the sensitive immigration portfolio.
Sarkozy also moved a political heavyweight out of the government and put him in charge of his centre-right UMP party to lay the foundations for his 2012 re-election campaign.
Sarkozy is regularly quoted in the French press lambasting his ministers for their perceived failings and at one stage a major reshuffle had been expected in early 2009.
But after more than 18 months in office, he decided to leave almost all his ministers in place and did not sack anyone.
Brice Hortefeux, Sarkozy's oldest friend, was named Labour and Social Affairs Minister, replacing Xavier Bertrand, who faced down the unions over a reform of pension privileges in 2007 and is moving to the UMP to prepare for the 2012 vote.
The suave Hortefeux previously held the immigration portfolio and led a controversial drive to expel almost 30,000 illegal immigrants from France in 2008 alone.
Some newspaper commentators said his well-leaked promotion was a bid by Sarkozy to groom him for an eventual appointment as prime minister.
Hortefeux will be replaced in charge of immigration by Eric Besson, a former senior member of the Socialist party who defected to Sarkozy's camp just before the 2007 election and has been working behind the scenes as a junior economy minister.
By moving a one-time leftist into such a controversial ministry, which Sarkozy himself created when he took office, the president will hope to broaden the debate on immigration and undermine Socialist accusations of political extremism.
The French government has rushed through a raft of reforms since 2007, but the pace has slowed in recent weeks, with the economic downturn and the fear of social conflict putting Sarkozy on to the defensive. [ID:nLC349489]
Ironically, the government has often run into more effective flak from its own parliamentary supporters than from official leftist opposition, with the Socialist party hobbled by interminable internal feuding.
Reuters Last Mod: 15 Ocak 2009, 15:02