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Tuesday, 7 May, 2002, 17:55 GMT 18:55 UK
New French PM names cabinet
Jean-Pierre Raffarin
Raffarin is toughening the fight against crime
France's new Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, has unveiled the cabinet which will carry the right's hopes into next month's parliamentary elections.

The team includes a powerful new Minister of the Interior and Security, Nicolas Sarkozy, who will have powers aimed at combatting France's rising crime rate.

We won't forget the discontent that the French people have expressed

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin
Crime was seen as the main issue which drove voters to back far-right candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen, who was finally defeated by President Jacques Chirac in Sunday's presidential run-off.

The announcement of the new government , at the Elysee Palace in Paris, came after Mr Raffarin had spent the day locked in talks.

Other key appointments include:

  • business executive Francis Mer, who becomes finance minister
  • Dominique de Villepin, Mr Chirac's chief of staff, who is named foreign minister
  • Michele Alliot-Marie, a member of parliament and head of Mr Chirac's RPR political party, who becomes France's first female defence minister.

The BBC's James Coomarasamy in Paris says Mr Raffarin has chosen a string of Chirac loyalists, who could end up as France's shortest-lived government in history if they fail to win next month's parliamentary election.

An announcement had been expected earlier on Tuesday, but reports said it had been delayed by last-minute wrangling over the line-up.

Mr Raffarin was named yesterday as prime minister by Mr Chirac, the day after he trounced the far-right's Jean-Marie Le Pen in the presidential poll.

Cabinet ministers
Interior and domestic security - Nicolas Sarkozy
Foreign Affairs - Dominique de Villepin
Finance - Francis Mer
Defence - Michele Alliot-Marie
Justice - Dominique Perben
Environment - Roselyne Bachelot
Education and youth - Luc Ferry
Labour and social affairs - Francois Fillon
Transport - Gilles de Robien
Mr Raffarin, a little-known senator who helped run Mr Chirac's campaign, is seen as a political moderate and free trade advocate.

The new ministers - who will not have the backing of a parliamentary majority - face the task of rallying right-wing voters and wooing the fragmented left to deliver victory in the parliamentary elections, held over two rounds on 9 and 16 June.

Mr Chirac is hoping for a right-wing parliamentary majority, to prevent another period of power-sharing between left and right.

Mr Raffarin took office after Lionel Jospin bowed out, two weeks after losing to Mr Le Pen in the first round of the presidential elections.

Mr Raffarin travelled from his own official residence, the Matignon Palace, to the presidential Elysee Palace, from where the announcement was made.

Mr Chirac's choice of Mr Raffarin, who is seen as a grass-roots consensus politician, is widely seen as a move to tackle the alienation from politics blamed in part for Mr Le Pen's shock first round success.

Resigning PM Jospin and President Chirac at Elysee Palace
Jospin (left) had five years of uneasy "cohabitation" with Chirac

"We won't forget the discontent that the French people have expressed... and this demand for action, this demand that we be closer to them," Mr Raffarin said after taking office.

The new cabinet has five weeks until the election in which to set its agenda.

Ministers are expected to launch policies including setting up new police squads and juvenile centres, in line with President Chirac's commitment to combat crime.

Lowering income tax and amending the 35-hour working week are also expected to be early priorities. The new government will not have the power to pass the relevant laws until after the election.

"It is possible to do a certain number of things that are more than symbolic but less than legislative before the next National Assembly starts to sit," said constitutional expert Guy Carcassonne.

Chirac needs to take the concerns of his country far more seriously

Michael, Canada
A BBC correspondent in Paris says Mr Raffarin is economically conservative, but socially liberal, and his appointment seems to be Mr Chirac's way of countering accusations that he will have to pander to Mr Le Pen's extremist views.

A former businessman experienced in public relations, Mr Raffarin's only previous national post was as minister for small businesses from 1995 to 1997.

Left backlash?

Mr Chirac scored a mere 20% in the first round - a record low for a front-runner - but his 82%-18% margin of victory in the second round was the biggest-ever in a French presidential election.

Final results
Chirac - 82.21%
Le Pen - 17.79%
Voter turnout - 79.71%
The landslide was heavily buoyed by a left-wing protest vote against the far-right threat, and the mass street protests against Mr Le Pen after the first round have led some observers to predict a backlash in favour of the left in next month's elections.

French opinion polls released on Sunday night suggested that centre-right parties backing the president would win a small majority in the National Assembly.

The BBC's James Coomarasamy
"The cabinet is basically a string of Chirac loyalists"

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