France has a new government dominated by the Socialist party that will run at least through next month's legislative elections. The new ministers were barely ensconced when they were informed of a pay cut to set an example for France although they will not be reduced to starvation wages.
The lower salary level is perhaps appropriate for novices, as of the 34 members of the new government, 31 are occupying a ministerial position for the first time. Francois Hollande is in a similar position but then he was elected president.
This is somewhat natural, as the last time the Socialists were in government was 2002. The main representative of the old-timers, referred to in France as "the elephants", is Laurent Fabius, who during the 1980s was a child prodigy as a 37-year-old Prime Minister under Francois Mitterrand. Now he must content himself with the job of Foreign Minister at the age of 65.
French commentators view the appointment of Fabius as a warning shot to the European Union, and a signal to voters who supported anti-EU candidates, that the French president has heard them. In the 2005 referendum on the European Constitution, Fabius disregarded a party decision to support the constitution and campaigned against it. The constitution's opponents carried the day.
Another interesting appointment is that of Arnaud Montebourg, who was the furthest to the left of Hollande's opponents in the Socialist party primaries. He has been tapped for the job of re-industrializing France and bringing back the jobs that were lost to foreign competition. Montebourg provides encouragement for the anti-globalization partisans who would like greater protection for French industries. How that can be reconciled with the single European market and French WTO obligations is another story.
Francois Hollands achieved geographic balance, appointed immigrants and Moslems to the cabinet and produced the first cabinet with parity between male and female ministers.
In addition to Montebourg, Hollande had something for every faction of the party including his intraparty opponents. The one striking exception was Martine Aubry, who was Hollande's opponent in the primary runoff . When she succeeded Hollande as chair of the Socialist party, she commented on the disrepair that she found upon assuming her post.
She claimed that she had even repaired the toilets at Socialist party headquarters that Hollande had neglected. Perhaps the French president could not create a Ministry of Household Plumbing to accommodate her.
Jean-Marc Ayrault, the mayor of Nantes, is the Prime Minister. In the French system when the president's party forms the government, the Prime Minister is expected to play second fiddle to the president and avoid upstaging him.
If the government's ratings go down he could find himself a victim of a cabinet reshuffle engineered by the president. Ayrault speaks fluent German, perhaps a gesture to France's neighbor. He has caused a problem in the Arab world as his name resembles the Arab slang for male member.