French gov't reshuffle expels dissident ministers

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

PARIS (AP) — France's prime minister reshuffled his Cabinet on Tuesday to silence ministers who had openly criticized Socialist President Francois Hollande's economic policies as he tries to pull the nation out of stagnation and steer it toward growth.

Emmanuel Macron, who had earlier served as top adviser in charge of the economy, took over the Economy Ministry, replacing Arnaud Montebourg, a politician who had publicly railed against government policies as being too austere and unjust to the French.

Finance Minister Michel Sapin stayed in place in the limited reshuffle.

Other top ministers, including Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius and Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, also kept their jobs.

Hollande asked all the ministers to say aloud whether they were in line with his policies and if not to leave the Cabinet, a top government official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

Macron, who had advised Hollande until June 2014, is known for his pro-business ideas and is sure to send a positive signal to the European Union, which is pressuring France to get its finances in order.

France, the No. 2 economy in the eurozone, has had no growth this year.

The Cabinet reshuffle came less than five months after the ambitious and popular Prime Minister Manuel Valls took office on April 1, steadfastly promoting Hollande's agenda. The changes are aimed at creating a Cabinet that embodies Hollande's policies.

Hollande is the most unpopular president in recent French history, with ratings below 20 percent. He has promised to lower the country's 10 percent jobless rate, cut the deficit and rekindle growth.

However, Montebourg, a swashbuckling minister meant to be among those at the forefront of that task, has instead become a critic.

His public remarks over the weekend criticizing austerity — and supported by Education Minister Benoit Hamon who also lost his job — were seen by the government as going too far. Valls demanded a change in the Cabinet, and Hollande agreed. The culture minister, Aurelie Filippetti, also came out as a sympathizer to Montebourg, and was removed.

Hamon was replaced by Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the former sports and youth minister, and Filippetti was replaced by Fleur Pellerin, former minster for commerce and tourism.

In addition to the ousted ministers, dozens of other Socialists are believed to consider Hollande's economic policies a betrayal of the party's cause.

Montebourg has criticized Hollande's government of hurting the French economy by using austerity measures in keeping with Germany's demands and he EU's goal of reducing the deficit. Hollande's goal is 50 billion euros ($29 billion) in state spending cuts by 2017.