French government resigns ahead of reshuffle

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s government resigned on Saturday in a procedural move designed to allow President Nicolas Sarkozy to inject some fresh blood into his cabinet and boost his re-election chances in 2012.

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy (L) and Prime Minister Francois Fillon take part in Armistice Day ceremonies in Paris November 11, 2010. REUTERS/Miguel Medina/Pool

Prime Minister Francois Fillon handed in his government’s resignation ahead of a long-awaited ministerial reshuffle expected in the coming days.

“The president has accepted this resignation,” Sarkozy’s office said in a statement after meetings between Sarkozy and Fillon earlier in the day.

The two men exchanged a long, warm handshake on the steps of the Elysee palace following their discussions.

Sarkozy is widely expected to reappoint trusted ally Fillon as prime minister and avoid major surprises when he switches a handful of ministers in an attempt to shore up support in his conservative base 18 months before general elections.

Energy Minister Jean-Louis Borloo, who was at one stage considered favorite to replace Fillon, also met with Sarkozy earlier on Saturday.

Sarkozy emerged victorious from a drawn out battle with unions over pension reform but remains deeply unpopular with approval ratings below 30 percent.

The Le Figaro newspaper said Fillon would remain prime minister in a cabinet line up Sarkozy said several months ago he would change once his pension reforms were law.

Economy Minister Christine Lagarde, Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux, Education Minister Luc Chatel, Budget Minister Francois Baroin and Agriculture Minister Bruno le Maire would also keep their jobs, the paper said.

Former Prime Minister Alain Juppe suggested earlier on France Info radio that he would join the government and remain mayor of the major southwestern city of Bordeaux.

Bringing in the political heavyweight Juppe to run a key ministry such as defense could please old-school conservatives but some in the center-right called for a bolder shake-up.


Jean-Pierre Raffarin, another ex-prime minister, said Fillon should step down because deeper change was needed.

“I appreciate the person. He is calling for continuity, that’s legitimate, but this political line no longer corresponds to what we need. The president has to set a new course,” he told the Le Monde newspaper.

The policies of the past three years had not helped the ruling party and this year’s regional elections were catastrophic, he said.

“If we can’t manage to deliver something new politically during Act II of the five-year term, there’s no chance that the result will be any better in 2012,” he added.

However, Dominique Paille, spokesman for the ruling center-right UMP party, told LCI television that Sarkozy’s failure to immediately reappoint Fillon suggested there could still be surprises.

“The general rule is that when a departing prime minister is called up for a new government, he is reappointed at the same time that he is relieved of his duties,” Paille said.

“The Elysee press release does not specify that, thus there is a large range of options for the president in the hours ahead for the nomination” of a new prime minister, he said.

Additional reporting by Thierry Leveque; Editing by Jon Boyle