Thursday, 17 May 2012 19:05
PARIS: French leader Francois Hollande's new Socialist government got down to work on Thursday with the first order of business a symbolic 30 percent pay cut for the president and ministers.
At the cabinet's first meeting, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the top item on the agenda would be the salary cut, a Hollande campaign promise that the premier said was about "setting an example".
The move was aimed at drawing a clear distinction between Hollande and former president Nicolas Sarkozy, whose salary famously increased by 170 percent to 19,000 euros ($24,000) per month after he took office in 2007.
Senior ministers meanwhile said the government's first concern would be to tackle the European debt crisis and push Hollande's vow to shift the European Union's economic focus from austerity to growth.
"The priority is to disentangle the crisis in Europe," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told news channel BFMTV. "I am profoundly European but we need a different Europe, a Europe that is much more focused on jobs."
Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici reiterated that Paris would not ratify the EU's fiscal austerity pact if it does not include measures to boost growth.
"What has been said quite clearly is that the treaty will not be ratified as is and that it must be completed with a chapter on growth, with a growth strategy," Moscovici told BFMTV.
Moscovici also gave assurances that the Socialists would keep public finances under control.
"We must reorient the reconstruction of Europe, but not by turning our backs on budget discipline," he added.
"I want to be very clear, Francois Hollande has said it repeatedly, we must tackle the public debt, reduce deficits, and secure France's situation. That is fundamental, a country that runs up debt is a country that is getting poorer."
Hollande, who defeated right-winger Sarkozy in a May 6 vote, on Wednesday unveiled a government of mainly moderate Socialists and longtime allies.
Fabius, 65, was prime minister under France's last Socialist president Francois Mitterrand between 1984 and 1986, while 54-year-old Moscovici was Hollande's campaign chief during the race.
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.
Notably absent from the government was Socialist party 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.
The new line-up also met a promise to appoint an equal number of men and women in Hollande's cabinet, a first for France, although most of the senior posts went to men.
It is a cabinet with little experience -- only five of its 34 members have served previously in government and seven are under the age of 40.
After meeting on Thursday, the cabinet will help plan the Socialist strategy for the party's campaign to win a parliamentary majority in June legislative elections.
Under France's political system the president requires a parliamentary majority to maintain a government, otherwise the prime minister is in charge of the executive.
Hollande will meanwhile be heading to the United States on Friday for the start of a series of major international meetings, including a gathering of G8 leaders Friday and Saturday at Camp David near Washington, and a NATO summit in Chicago on Sunday and Monday.
Hollande was to hold a videoconference later Thursday with the leaders of Germany, Italy and Britain, and the EU's top officials, ahead of the meetings.
Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2012