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Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Sarkozy's government reshuffle and the Neuilly-sur-Seine "quintuplets"

Much has been made over the past couple of days of the government reshuffle here in France.

For some perhaps it was a case of "out with the old and in with the older" as familiar faces such as Alain Juppé and Xavier Bertrand made a return to the political front line and a whole heap of potential electoral threats in the 2012 presidential race were summarily dispatched to pastures new.

But while the instinct is perhaps to get bogged down in the minutiae of what it all means - or doesn't - politically speaking, there are of course some slightly more irreverent angles on the current line-up of ministers.

There's the fact that Michèle Alliot-Marie, a stalwart of the ruling centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) now takes over at the foreign ministry; her fourth consecutive top notch job (following defence, interior and justice) since she re-entered the government back in 2002.

And there's the appointment of her partner Patrick Ollier as the minister responsible for parliamentary relations, making the pair perhaps the most politically powerful couple in France, and the subject of a smile or two maybe as they attend their first cabinet meeting together on Wednesday.

If that were not enough, there's also the "bizarre" (as the French website Le Post puts it) coincidence that no fewer than five of the now 31-strong government (cabinet and junior ministers combined) were born in the same place.

Where?

Neuilly-sur-Seine, the swanky, wealthy suburb to the west of the French capital, and very much the former stomping ground of the French president himself.

Rue Berteaux-Dumas, Neuilly-sur-Seine, (from Wikipedia, author - Metropolitan)

Sarkozy was mayor of the town from 1983 to 2002.

He spent much of his childhood in Neuilly and his mother, Andrée, still lives there.

Sarkozy's second son, Jean, is currently a regional councillor representing the town in which he, of course, was born.

As France 2 television points out, the French sociologist Michel Pinçon doesn't find it so surprising that Sarkozy has turned to those whose roots are in a town which "embodies social excellence" even if it is a place which in no way reflects the rest of the country.

"It's the town which has the highest number of people paying wealth tax in France," he writes in the book he co-authored with his wife, Monique, "Le président des riches".

"Even being born in Neuilly and not necessarily living there is of social significance."

All right, so it might be stretching a point somewhat to imply that Neuilly has somehow become Sarkozy's preferred recruiting territory.

But perhaps it's something to mull over during Tuesday evening's hour-plus television broadcast (on three channels) when Sarkozy will doubtless deny the suggestion (should he be asked) that his reshuffle is nothing more than strengthening his position within the UMP to run for re-election in 2012.

Just for the record the Neuilly "quintuplets", as Le Post calls them, are Brice Hortefeux, Frédéric Lefebvre, Bruno Le Maire, Valérie Pécresse and Georges Tron.

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