At first sight the choice of Christine Boutin as minister of housing and cities seems odd. A politician distinguished primarily for her opposition to abortion and same-sex civil unions, she heads a small party of "social conservatives" known as the Forum des Républicains Sociaux and had considered running for the Elysée herself before stepping aside in favor of Nicolas Sarkozy. Her traditionalist Catholicism would seem to make her the odd woman out in a nation of anticlericals (on her appointment of a priest to her staff, see yesterday's comment here).
Yet some of her lesser-known commitments make her choice for the post less peculiar, perhaps. For one thing, she favors a guaranteed minimum income in the form of what she calls a "universal dividend." This puts her in the company of such figures of the European intellectual left as Philippe van Parijs and Claus Offe, who favor a universal basic income (much higher, to be sure, than Boutin's proposed 330 euros per month, but the principle is the same: an expression of social solidarity and refusal of exclusion).
For another, she is a champion of prisoners' rights and improved conditions in the prisons. Finally, she is virtually alone on the right of the political spectrum in wanting to make the right to decent housing un droit opposable, that is, a right guaranteed in law and giving grounds for litigation if the government fails to provide.
But perhaps her most signal qualification for the post is her willingness to enter into dialogue with religious Muslims. As a Catholic fundamentalist, her views on the foundational role of religion and its priority over politics have at least that in common with certain Muslim views. She has attended meetings and received the applause of the Union des Organisations Islamiques de France (UOIF), which is close to the Muslim Brothers and considered a more radical element within the Conseil Français du Culte Musulman (CFCM). (The CFCM is the body that represents the "Muslim community" to the state; it was created at the behest of Socialist Jean-Pierre Chevènement but raised to its present status by Nicolas Sarkozy in his previous position as minister of the interior and religious organizations [cultes]. Fouad Alaoui, the head of the UOIF, is the number two in the CFCM at the moment.)
Boutin is thus well-placed to serve as an emissary to Muslim groups, to which she has none of the a priori hostility characteristic of most republican politicians. She is also relatively expendable: if she makes a misstep or fails in her overtures, she can be replaced without great damage to the president, with whom she is not closely associated.