France's New Prime Minister Sarkozy Appoints Fillon

Francois Fillon has been named the new prime minister of France. The cool-headed reformer will likely be a great asset to President Nicolas Sarkozy. But before he can help push through their reform agenda, he will face his first big hurdle -- the legislative elections in June.


New French President Nicolas Sarkozy has appointed his close advisor Francois Fillon as prime minister.
AP

New French President Nicolas Sarkozy has appointed his close advisor Francois Fillon as prime minister.

In a widely anticipated move, the new French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has named Francois Fillon as his prime minister.

Fillon, who has been a close advisor to Sarkozy and ran his slick election campaign, met with the president at the Élysée Palace on Thursday morning. He then went to the prime ministerial office at the Hôtel Matignon to formally take over from Dominique de Villepin. Fillon will be heading up a new streamlined government, to be named on Friday, which will be charged with implementing sweeping reforms, includes cutting taxes, easing labor market restrictions and curbing the country's unions.

The cabinet will consist of just 15 ministries, and at least seven of them will be headed by women. The eminent Socialist Bernard Kouchner, a co-founder of Doctors Without Borders, is tipped to be named foreign minister, and former prime minister Alain Juppé is also expected to be given a cabinet seat.

Fillon has served for many years as a senator for the north-western department of Sarthe. He was social affairs minister from 2002 to 2004 and education minister until 2005. He fell out with former president Jacques Chirac, and de Villepin, when he was dropped from the cabinet after a 2005 reshuffle. This snub prompted Fillon to move over to the Sarkozy camp.

The two men have strongly contrasting personalities, which may well help them push through the their reform agenda. While Sarkozy is perceived as brash and dynamic, Fillon is a cool-headed reformer, a safe pair of hands, and most importantly, he has experience dealing with France's powerful unions. As social affairs minister, his negotiating skills helped push through tricky pension reforms. He is also credited with laying the ground work for ending France Telecom's monopoly when he served as a junior minister in the mid-1990s.

Fillon is a believer in a strong presidential system for France -- he is thought to see the prime minister's role as one of a manager, who pushes through the president's agenda. This will suit Sarkozy, who unlike the aloof Chirac, fully intends to be a hands-on president.

Unlike the president, Fillon's position is far from secure. It depends on his success in the forthcoming legislative elections in June, which the conservatives will desperately want to win if the Sarkozy "revolution" is to take hold.

smd/ap/reuters

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