In France, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin resorted to a compromise strategy in a Cabinet reshuffle announced earlier this week. Rattled by a series of missteps, Mr. Jospin needs to rebuild public confidence. To do so, he appointed two prominent rivals from his Socialist Party to key positions. It is a time-tested move in French politics. Whether it yields the dividend in the 2002 presidential election that the prime minister is counting on will depend on his government’s willingness to make some hard choices before then.
Mr. Jospin tapped former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius to head the “superministry” of finance, economy and industry. Mr. Fabius is a prominent reformer who should be able to rally the business community behind the Cabinet. Although his post is the second most powerful in the government, it has not been much of a force for change since Mr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn stepped down in the wake of a scandal last year. His successor did not have his prestige, and attempts at administrative reform were frustrated by strikes.
Mr. Fabius returns to the Cabinet as the French economy shows its strength. It is expected to grow 3.5 percent this year, and there is a $9 billion budget surplus. Unemployment remains stubbornly high, above 10 percent, and employers’ groups are angry at the imposition of a 35-hour workweek. Mr. Fabius has criticized the government for its failure to adopt probusiness measures. If he is given his head in the ministry, he should be able to win back middle-class support.
In another surprise move, Mr. Jospin gave Mr. Jack Lang, the former minister of culture, the education ministry portfolio. That is another policy battleground, as the government forces reform on the teachers’ unions.
Both men are associated with former President Francois Mitterrand. It is a positive image, and Mr. Jospin hopes it will add luster to a Cabinet beset by difficulties — often of its own making. But if the prime minister wants to win the presidential election scheduled for 2002, he should focus more on substance and let the image-making follow.
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