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The new French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault arrives at the Hotel Matignon on May 16, 2012 in Paris.


New French government to take a pay cut

The new French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault arrives at the Hotel Matignon on May 16, 2012 in Paris.

PARIS, May 17 – France’s new government, under Socialist President Francois Hollande, gets down to work Thursday with the first order of business on their agenda being a pay cut for themselves.

Hollande unveiled a government of mainly moderate Socialists and longtime allies Wednesday as his new prime minister vowed to work quickly to put the country back on its feet.

The new line-up also meets a promise to appoint an equal number of men and women in his cabinet, a first for France, although most of the senior posts went to men.

New prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Hollande’s government would waste no time and hold its first meeting on Thursday, despite it being a public holiday, and would address the economic crisis.

“What’s essential, and that’s why the cabinet will meet as soon as Thursday, is to get quickly to work to allow France to get back on its feet in a just way,” Ayrault told journalists.

Like Hollande, who on Tuesday became France’s first Socialist president since 1995, Ayrault has never previously held a ministerial post, the first time that both posts have been held by government rookies.

Hollande tapped former prime minister Laurent Fabius, 65, as foreign minister and his campaign chief during the race against Nicolas Sarkozy, 54-year-old Pierre Moscovici, as finance minister.

Notably absent from the line-up was Socialist leader and former labour minister Martine Aubry, a key figure in the party’s old-guard left wing, who said she would not join cabinet after being passed up for the premiership.

Ayrault said the first order of business on Thursday would be the imposition of a 30 percent pay cut for the president and all ministers, as Hollande promised in the campaign.

“This is about setting an example,” he told France 2 television.

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“I will also propose a code of conduct,” he said. “Everyone must sign this commitment on conflicts of interest, holding more than one office and not carrying out any other activities.”

Fabius, prime minister under France’s last Socialist president Francois Mitterrand between 1984 and 1986, will take over French diplomacy at an important time for Paris’s relations with its European neighbours.

With anxiety running high over the fate of the eurozone, Hollande’s choice of Moscovici, a former European affairs minister from 1997 to 2002, as finance minister also seemed aimed at addressing the European debt crisis.

Jean-Yves Le Drian, a 64-year-old local politician from Brittany, was named defence minister, while Manuel Valls, a free-market moderniser seen as on the right of the Socialist Party, was named interior minister.

Hollande also chose close ally Michel Sapin, 60, as labour minister and put Arnaud Montebourg, a 49-year-old from the left wing of the Socialist party, in charge of reindustrialisation.

Jerome Cahuzac, 59 and the head of parliament’s budget committee, was named budget minister, while Christiane Taubira, a 60-year-old lawmaker from French Guiana, was named justice minister.

The absence of Aubry, famed as the architect of France’s 35-hour work week when she was labour minister in 1998, had been expected after she said there was no place for her in an Ayrault cabinet.

“In such a set-up, we agreed, amicably, that there was no sense in my being in government,” Aubry told AFP. “There was no proposal and no negotiation.”

“What’s certain is that I will campaign for the parliamentary election. All three of us agreed that, under the circumstances, where I can be most useful is at the head of the Socialist Party to be close to Jean-Marc Ayrault.”

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After meeting on Thursday, Ayrault’s cabinet will help plan the Socialist strategy for their campaign to win a parliamentary majority in June legislative elections — a key test for the party.

The Socialists must win a comfortable majority in parliament in order to pass legislation without requiring the support of smaller parties such as the Communists.

Ayrault’s track record of keeping parliament’s often-unruly bloc of Socialists in line fits with Hollande’s vow to seek a consensus-building government.

The current mayor of Nantes, he is a veteran parliamentarian and seen as a consensus builder.

And Ayrault’s background as a Germanophile and German-language speaker should also prove useful in building ties with France’s powerful neighbour and in tackling Hollande’s goal of reshaping Europe’s economic policies.

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