New French Prime Minister Names Government

Dominique de Villepin
French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin named his government Thursday, which included new heads of the French health, education, foreign and interior ministries.

It took two days for Prime Minister de Villepin to name his team, and the cabinet he chose was a smaller one than under his predecessor, Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

The most interesting change, which was widely speculated in the French media, was in appointing Nicolas Sarkozy, head of the ruling Union for a Popular Movement party to a kind of super-ministerial post.  Mr. Sarkozy is now both state minister, and head of the Interior Ministry, a job he has held before.  A political rival of both Mr. de Villepin and French President Jacques Chirac, he is now the government's number two man.

Former health minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, replaces Michel Barnier as the country's new foreign minister. Michele Alliot-Marie remains France's defense minister, and Thierry Breton remains head of the country's Finance Ministry.

The changes are part of President Chirac's promise to inject new vitality into the government and make it more responsive to the public. Sunday, when 55 percent of French voters rejected the European constitution in a referendum, many analysts believe the vote was partly cast to sanction Mr. Chirac's center-right government, and it has plunged France into a political crisis.

In an interview on France's TF1 television Wednesday night, Mr. de Villepin said creating jobs and trimming the country's 10 percent unemployment rate would be a top priority.

Mr. de Villepin said everything must be done to fight against unemployment, while keeping the French social model. Many French fear that the European constitution would erode French social benefits.

Already, however, critics are denouncing the new government. That includes Marie-George Buffet, head of the French Communist Party, which launched a vigorous campaign against the European charter.

Ms. Buffet told France Info Thursday night that the new government offered no real changes. She said a deep divide existed between the goals of France's conservative government and those of the public.

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