Sarkozy's Cabinet historically diverse

French president cuts 30 ministries to 15, chooses woman of North African descent

May 19, 2007|By Sebastian Rotella and Achrene Sicakyuz | Sebastian Rotella and Achrene Sicakyuz,LOS ANGELES TIMES

PARIS -- President Nicolas Sarkozy unveiled a streamlined Cabinet of historic diversity and ideological scope yesterday, appointing leftists, centrists, an unprecedented number of women and France's first powerful minister of North African descent.

The center-right president had raised expectations by promising that his government would be run by a talented "dream team," breaking down barriers of gender, ethnicity and party politics.

Yesterday, Sarkozy named seven female ministers, an unprecedented portion of the Cabinet, which he cut from 30 to 15 ministries.

As well, Sarkozy crossed party lines to name Socialist Bernard Kouchner, a popular humanitarian activist and founder of Doctors Without Borders, as foreign minister. The appointment, along with those of three leftists named to junior minister posts, was viewed as a political coup intended to widen Sarkozy's political base and splinter a demoralized Socialist Party ahead of next month's legislative elections.

The government also featured veteran leaders and well-known faces. Among them were Prime Minister Francois Fillon, a former social-affairs minister emerging as one of the president's closest lieutenants, and Alain Juppe, a former prime minister who endured a corruption conviction that resulted in his being barred from politics for a year. Sarkozy put Juppe in charge of a "super-ministry" overseeing environment and durable development.

The Cabinet has a new-generation look aimed at shaking up an elitist ruling class. Perhaps the most notable symbol: Rachida Dati, 41, as minister of justice.

The French-born Dati grew up in a low-income housing project, one of 12 children of an Algerian father and a Moroccan mother. Dati worked as a magistrate, advised Sarkozy when he was interior minister and served as his campaign spokeswoman. She becomes the first leader of North African descent to run a key ministry in a society whose large population of immigrants, mostly Muslims, has been largely excluded from the halls of power.

"I'm very moved - it's a position of real responsibility," Dati said yesterday, promising to be "the justice minister who restores the confidence of the French in the justice system and will truly involve them in its mission."

The preceding government had a junior minister for equal opportunity who was of North African descent, but even that minister acknowledged that it was largely a symbolic and marginal post.

The top woman in the government is Michele Alliot-Marie, a former defense chief. She will oversee law enforcement and intelligence agencies as minister of interior security. Sarkozy created a ministry of immigration and national identity, fulfilling a campaign promise to work harder at integrating immigrants, and entrusted the sensitive task to a longtime lieutenant, Brice Hortefeux.

Sarkozy's choice of defense minister was a blow to the camp of centrist Francois Bayrou, who won more than 6 million votes in the first round of the presidential election but is now watching his support evaporate. The new defense chief is Herve Morin, who until recently was parliamentary chief of Bayrou's centrist political party.

Sebastian Rotella and Achrene Sicakyuz write for the Los Angeles Times.

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