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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 March, 2004, 20:19 GMT 21:19 UK
Raffarin names new French cabinet
PM Jean-Pierre Raffarin (left) with President Jacques Chirac (file picture)
Raffarin (left) still has Chirac's trust - for now
French conservative Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has reshuffled his cabinet after his party's heavy losses at the recent regional elections.

President Jacques Chirac reappointed Mr Raffarin despite the rout.

The new cabinet - Mr Raffarin's third since May 2002 - includes both familiar names and high-profile changes.

The popular Nicolas Sarkozy gets the finance portfolio and is replaced at the interior ministry by outgoing Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin.

Michel Barnier - currently a member of the European Commission - becomes the new foreign minister.

The BBC's Alasdair Sandford in Paris says Mr Barnier's Brussels experience should help France in future negotiations over a European constitution.

Tall order

At home the government's immediate concern is the fate of its programme of economic reforms, our correspondent says.

MUSICAL CHAIRS?
Foreign Minister: Michel Barnier
Finance Minister: Nicolas Sarkozy
Interior Minister: Dominique de Villepin

Mr Sarkozy's communication skills will be called upon to win over a sceptical public, he adds.

Mr Raffarin's efforts to reform public sector pensions and other aspects of France's extensive welfare system have proved deeply unpopular.

The UMP lost heavily in the recent local and regional elections, retaining only one of the 21 mainland regions.

The socialists and their allies held their existing eight regions, and seized another 12 from the centre-right.

Analysts say Mr Raffarin could still leave office later in the year.

Other cabinet changes announced on Wednesday include the appointment of Francois Fillon as education minister, and the promotion of Jean-Louis Borloo to head a new ministry for "labour and social cohesion".

Both Defence Minister Michele Alliot-Marie and Justice Minister Dominique Perben remain in office.


SEE ALSO:
French PM stays on despite rout
30 Mar 04  |  Europe
French voters dump Chirac party
29 Mar 04  |  Europe
Country profile: France
24 Mar 04  |  Country profiles


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