President Jacques Chirac shook up his cabinet last night as he struggled to restore the French people’s faith in his reform programme. The reshuffle became inevitable after the Right’s electoral drubbing on Sunday in which it lost control of all but one French mainland region.
The key post of finance minister went to Nicolas Sarkozy, the interior minister and M Chirac’s main rival in his own camp. He will be asked to implement the economic reforms blamed by most commentators for bringing the Right to its knees.
Failure could take the shine off M Sarkozy’s poll ratings, which show him to be the most popular politician in France, while success could easily help M Chirac.
In the most surprising move, the foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, was moved to the interior ministry. M de Villepin objected strongly to America’s invasion of Iraq and, while he became emblematic of France’s diplomatic rebirth as an opponent of US power, he is loathed in Washington and has had an uneasy relationship with the British Government. He will be replaced by Michel Barnier, at present a European commissioner.0