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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 May 2007, 08:33 GMT 09:33 UK
Profile: Francois Fillon
By Caroline Wyatt
BBC News, Paris

Francois Fillon, 53, has been appointed French Prime Minister by Nicolas Sarkozy - and he is the first French premier to boast a Welsh wife.

A key ally of Nicolas Sarkozy and - as his campaign director - one of the architects of his successful presidential election campaign, Francois Fillon is a former French Education and Social Affairs Minister with a reputation for strength but also subtlety in pushing through reforms.

Francois Fillon
Mr Fillon will head a slimmed-down government of 15 ministers
He is an old-school Gaullist who was once close to President Jacques Chirac, but pledged his loyalty to Mr Sarkozy in 2005 after being unceremoniously dumped from the then government.

Mr Fillon comes from the left of Mr Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement party and believes in social inclusiveness, a fact which could help him deal with some of France's notoriously difficult trade unions when it comes to bargaining over economic reform.

Mr Sarkozy has promised to put employment at the top of his agenda. But plans to chip away at the 35-hour working week, reform France's generous welfare system or help employers to hire and fire more easily have foundered in the past when France's unions called for mass street protests - leading several previous governments to back down.

Five children

Francois Fillon currently sits as a senator in the upper house of parliament for the region of Sarthe.

Penelope and Francois Fillon

His Welsh wife, Penelope, was born in the village of Llanover near Abergavenny, and the couple have five children.

Madame Fillon is chatelaine of the Chateau de BeaucÚ, an imposing manor house at SablÚ-sur-Sarthe. It is not clear whether the whole family will abandon the French countryside for the grandeur of the Matignon, the French prime minister's residence on the Left Bank of Paris.

Mr Fillon will be in charge of a government of just 15 ministers, half its current number, as Mr Sarkozy puts into practice his pledge to slim down the state. He has also promised that half his ministers will be women.

Mr Fillon served as Minister for Labour under Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin's first government in 2002, which set out to reform France's 35-hour week and pensions system.

While in government, the consensual Mr Fillon gained a reputation for pushing through reforms without becoming too personally unpopular - a trait he may well need again.

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