Just 3 years ago, newly elected President Sarkozy named a broad-based government which included an unprecedented number of women, minorities and members of the opposition. This openness was one of the defining features of “Sarkozyism” which drove the President to power in 2007. When this election rhetoric was transformed into ministerial appointments, the new government was hailed by some at the time as the beginning of a new period of openness and cooperation in French politics, and heavily criticized by certain members of the majority UMP party, like Patrick Devedijan, a key member of the UMP inner circle, who mockingly urged Nicolas Sarkozy to “open up the government… all the way to Sarkozyists!”.
Jolting back to political reality, the most recent government reshuffle has signaled the end of an inclusive government and the return to insider rule. Nothing highlights this shift better than the departure of several token ministers including frontbenchers Jean-Marie Bockel, Fadela Amara and in particular Bernard Kouchner, who was one of Nicolas Sarkozy’s star signings. Now the only remaining survivor of bipartisanship experiment is Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand, whose presence in the government is as symbolic as his name.
This government reshuffle also means the return to power of the traditional right. The re-appointment of Prime Minister François Fillon is a telling indicator of this swing to the right. Although considered by some as a moderate, at heart he has more conservative tendencies, and will most probably use his next period as PM to continue his deficit reduction leitmotif. We have also seen the return of many of the grand old men (and women) of the Chirac era to government, as for example Alain Juppé, former Prime Minister under Jacques Chirac (and a recurring figure in right wing governments for the past 25 years) or the talismanic Michele Alliot-Marie whose political longevity is rivaled only by her dominance of the big four ministries (Defence, Foreign Affairs, Interior and Justice) over the last nine years.
The reshuffle also sees a restructuring of the power relationship between the Prime Minister and the President. Despite rumours that Francois Fillon might leave the PM spot, it is a sign of his growing power and popularity that President Sarkozy has reappointed him. To see how far Fillon has come, at the beginning of his time as PM in 2007, President Sarkozy described Fillon as a mere colleague whereas now Fillon is described by journalists as a sort of “Super Prime Minister”. Their roles, as well as their relationship, will be changing after the reshuffle. Fillon, who is more popular with the electorate and the majority representatives, will focus on domestic policy, including the final important reforms of the mandate. Even if President Sarkozy will still be actively involved in these issues, he will concentrate on international issues and will be preoccupied with the euro zone crisis, nuclear disarmament and France’s presidency of the G20.
This reshuffle can be seen as a capitulation of sorts by President Sarkozy, who has realized that he will not be able to push his agenda through parliament without the support of highly experienced key players on the right. The jury is currently out on whether this strategy will weaken or strengthen the President’s position and that of the majority UMP party with the 2012 elections coming.
The FH Paris team