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Monday, 17 June, 2002, 09:17 GMT 10:17 UK
Profile: Jean-Pierre Raffarin
Jean-Pierre Raffarin
Jean-Pierre Raffarin: "We need pragmatism"
Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the new prime minister of France, is a 53-year-old moderate right-wing senator from the free-market Liberal Democracy party (DL).

A public relations expert, Mr Raffarin is seen as a figure who can appeal to a broad section of the right, while embodying a consensual approach that may also keep some left-wing voters on side.

Raffarin (r) arriving at Elysee Palace
Raffarin (r) is thought to be good at finding consensus
Although a minister for small businesses in the 1995-1997 government of Alain Juppe, Mr Raffarin has nonetheless made much of his credentials as a grass-roots politician.

His relatively low-profile has been seen as an advantage at a time when voters are applying pressure to bring political decision-making closer to the people.

Mr Raffarin stressed the need for French politicians to deliver after the shock success of far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen in the presidential elections, and following his coalition's landslide in legislative elections he pledged to live up to voters' demands.

"We will assume our duty of action," he told a sea of supporters.

"We have the obligation not to disappoint. We will act with firmness and with openness."

Handle with care

The UMP coalition has put the issue of crime at the top of the election agenda, and Mr Raffarin will have to make sure the government delivers on its sweeping promises.

Jean-Pierre Raffarin
Previously marketing director for several companies
1976 - enters politics
1988 - becomes assistant mayor of Chasseneuil-du-Poitou in western France
1989 - elected to European Parliament
1995 - becomes general secretary of conservative UDF party
1997 - becomes vice-president of Liberal Democracy party after UDF split

His government have also promised a series of tax cuts, and the prospect of a rebate before the end of this summer. There are some fears that the figures being flashed around are unrealistic, given France's traditional commitment to proper funding of its public services.

It is also thought that Mr Raffarin's government will take on the issue of pension reform, an issue which could spark protests on the streets of Paris if not handled with care.

The last reforming government fell in 1997 soon after French people took to the streets to protest against reforms to the French welfare system, and in particular against suggestions that pension provision should be overhauled.

Mr Raffarin, analysts say, will have to proceed with caution in his new role.


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