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Sunday, 2 March 2014

A (Ségolène) Royal return to the French government?

Those in the "know" have been speculating about a government reshuffle in France for months and in particular the focus has been on whether the prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, is for the chop.

It's a popular media pastime - just ask Ayrault's predecessor in the job, François Fillon, who was constantly the centre of media conjecture as to who would replace him and when.

Jean-Marc Ayrault putting on a brave face at the Salon de l'Agriculture 2014 (screenshot France 3 television)

In the end, Fillon survived the full five years as prime minister during the "reign" of Nicolas Sarkozy's as president.

So far, under François Hollande, not much has happened in the game of ministerial musical chairs.

There has been the minimal of tinkering with only two high profile cabinet members losing their jobs.

In March 2013, the former minister for the budget Jérôme Cahuzac stepped down for "financial improprieties" (aka tax fraud).

And four months later, the ecology and environment minister, Delphine Batho, was effectively fired for openly criticising the government and the budget restrictions being imposed on her department.

They were replaced by two less-than charismatic figures Go on, try to remember their names - the answers at the end of this piece. No cheating.

Apart from that though the 38-strong government has remained unchanged.

Sure there have been disagreements, public spats and "hiccoughs" along the way, most notable perhaps in the relationship between the justice minister, Christiane Taubira, and the interior minister Manuel Valls.

The two haven't always seen eye to eye (far from it) but have been at pains to show how united they are when it counts.

Housing minister (although, as a leading member of the Greens, she probably really, really wants the environment portfolio) Cécile Duflot and the education minister Vincent Peillon have also "spoken out of turn"  - most memorably over their (personal) views on the decriminalisation of cannabis.

And then there's the dear old (well at 51, not so old really) minister of industrial renewal Arnaud Montebourg who, in spite of efforts by both Ayrault and Hollande to restrain him (and others), has happily ignored all attempts to make him hold his tongue.

Remember Montebourg telling Ayrault that the prime minister "ran the government as though it were the local council in Nantes (the city in which Ayrault was mayor for 23 years) ?

Or better still (you can do the translation), "Tu fais chier la terre entière avec ton aéroport."

Anyway, with the local elections just a matter of weeks away, the media has gone into government reshuffle speculation overdrive once again.

Political pundits insist there'll be a major shake-up at some point between the end of March (after the second round of local elections) and the European elections in May.

Ayrault will keep his job for the moment but will in effect just be keeping the seat warm for everybody's darling Valls as the "man of action" and right person to head the government during the second half of Hollande's presidency.

There'll be fewer ministers (well, there could hardly be could there) and some heavyweights (that means party elephants) will be wheeled in to entertain us.

And the names on everyone's lips will be familiar (how surprising) to anyone who has followed French politics over the past couple of decades...honestly.

Valls as prime minister would mean a vacancy at the interior ministry. The media's favourite?

Sit down for a moment.

Ségolène Royal!
Ségolène Royal refuses to be drawn about a possible entry into the government, Salon de l'Agriculture 2014 (screenshot BFM TV)

At the justice ministry, Christiane Taubira has "done her job" and would most likely be succeeded by Élisabeth Guigou, a real blast from the past as she held the same job back in 1997 for three years.

Former Areva boss (at last, someone with experience of industry) Anne Lauvergeon is one of those tipped to take over at the finance ministry (here's a question, why does France need both a finance minister and a budget minister when it has neither the money nor the ability to fund public spending?).

The soon-to-be former mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, will take over as minister of education.

And so on and so forth with room being made - should she so wish, for Martine Aubry,

Yes, it's all speculative. But that's what the media does best when "reporting" politics.

Perhaps though, it really is time for Hollande to start living up to his presidential election campaign slogan of "Le changement, c'est maintenant".

It would certainly make life more entertaining.

In case you're still scratching your head about the "replacement" ministers they are Bernard Cazeneuve (budget) and Philippe Martin (ecology).

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