PARIS (Reuters) - Pierre Moscovici, named French finance minister on Wednesday, is a reform-minded Social Democrat whose expertise in European affairs will prove valuable as France leads a fight-back against Germany-led austerity in Europe.
The bald 54-year-old, who was a junior European Affairs minister in a previous Socialist government, was catapulted to France’s top economics job after managing Francois Hollande’s successful campaign for the presidency.
A close ally of former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who led a reformist current in the Socialist party, Moscovici jumped to Hollande’s camp after Strauss-Kahn was charged with criminal sexual assault in New York last year and resigned his IMF post. The charges were later dismissed.
Moscovici, a graduate of the elite ENA civil service academy, was constantly at Hollande’s side during the campaign, hammering home the Socialists’ commitment to balancing the budget within five years by raising taxes on the rich and big companies.
Born in Paris, the son of a Romanian psychologist, Moscovici was a youthful Trotskyist, taught European Affairs at the city’s prestigious Sciences Po university and was a deputy president of the European parliament.
Armed with a postgraduate degree in economics and philosophy, his knowledge of the European Union and command of English may prove assets as France pushes for a redrafting of an EU budget discipline pact in the face of resistance in Berlin.
Bookish and eloquent, Moscovici faces a delicate balancing act to reassure nervous financial markets of France’s intent to balance its budget for the first time since 1974, while publicly pleading the case for more growth-oriented policies in Europe.
“We will be extremely demanding on this issue,” Moscovici told reporters recently. “What we want is not something cosmetic. It’s real and voluntary. It’s about rebalancing and reorienting European integration.”
A cigar lover who often sports a three-day stubble, Moscovici had coveted the prestigious post of foreign minister, but lost out to party heavyweight Laurent Fabius. He turned down the post of Hollande’s chief of staff, an influential but low-profile position.
Critics say that Moscovici, while ambitious, lacks the warm personal touch that helped propel Hollande to the presidency. The two have known each other for many years and co-authored a 1991 book on economics that criticized the market reforms of the then-Socialist government.
Moscovici has admitted that his passion for hand-rolled Havana cigars has ruffled feathers among Socialist colleagues.
“A cigar can be negative when you are building a political image,” he once told a French magazine. “Within the Socialist party, they find me pretentious because of my Havanas.”
After a youthful stint as a Trotskyist, Moscovici converted to the Socialist party in 1984 and rose quickly to become the party’s youngest national secretary.
Entering the inner circle of former prime minister Lionel Jospin, Moscovici was junior minister of European Affairs in Jospin’s 1997-2002 government.
His mentor’s dramatic resignation from politics, after being ousted from the 2002 presidential election by far-right National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen’s first-round success, left Moscovici in the political wilderness.
At the same time, he lost his parliamentary seat in the eastern department of Doubs, which he did not regain until 2007.
Moscovici then joined the camp of Strauss-Kahn, who had been his teacher at ENA, and backed his unsuccessful bid for the Socialist presidential candidacy in 2007.
Reporting by Daniel Flynn; editing by Geert De Clercq and Tim Pearce