Monday, May 28, 2007

Government structure

To an American observer, an interesting feature of the French polity is the fluidity of government structure. To create a new department of government in the United States is a major gambit: witness the politics around the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. In France, by contrast, ministries come and go from regime to regime and government to government.

Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that ministers come and go. The administration (in the French sense) remains, and bureaucrats go on doing what they do in the great fixed establishments of the government on the Quai Bercy, the Quai d'Orsay, and elsewhere around town. But the facility to create, destroy, combine, and reorder portfolios is one of the tools of the French president and prime minister. And a useful tool it is. It can be used to reward loyalty and punish misbehavior, signal priorities, accelerate or retard action in certain policy areas, reach out to the opposition and social actors, and alter relations between the government and civil society.

Hence the structure of government at any given moment is a clue to the thinking of its leaders, a point on which I was questioned the other day. So what does the structure of the first Fillon cabinet tell us?

First, it's much smaller than the last Villepin government. Instead of more than 30 ministers and minister-delegates, there are only 15 ministers and a handful of lesser cabinet members.

Second, the most significant restructuring affects the economic pole of the government's action. The vast area of economy, finance, industry, budget, and civil service has been broken up. Under Villepin, budget was a lesser function, assigned to J.-F. Copé, who doubled as government spokesman; he is now out. In his place, Eric Woerth is in charge of the budget and civil service (the two are closely related, since civil service salaries consume so much of the French budget) and has full ministerial rank. But the more important job goes to J.-L. Borloo, who is in charge of economy, finance, and employment. Note the change from the previous government, when this post covered economy, finance, and industry. The intention, I think, is to indicate that the government will take a more hands-off attitude toward industry, focusing on reform of labor contracts and stimulating job growth. The personnel change is also significant: Thierry Breton, who held the comparable job under Villepin, was an engineer and industrialist, former CEO of Thomson. Borloo is a lawyer and had responsibility for "social cohesion" under Villepin. Along with Xavier Bertrand, he will be responsible for selling the new labor contract to the unions.

Kouchner has already been commented on in other posts. Joining him in the core cabinet, I believe, are two of Sarkozy/Fillon's more interesting appointments, Rachida Dati (also commented on in previous posts) and Valerie Pécresse, who is in charge of higher education and research. She is the daughter of Dominique Roux, the head of Bolloré Telecom, and one of the relatively rare énarques and Grande Ecole graduates in the Fillon cabinet (she did HEC); she also served the Sarkozy campaign as an able debater. I look for higher education and research to be an important policy area over the next few years.

Then we have the outer circle, where bones are thrown to various elements of the majority coalition. The pairing of Christine Boutin, minister of housing and the city, and Roselyne Bachelot, minister of health and sports, can be understood in this light. Boutin distinguished herself by opposing the PACS, the civil union law, tear in eye and Bible in hand, while Bachelot was the only deputy of the right to vote for the PACS. Sarkozy thus covers both le pair et l'impair in the next spin of the electoral roulette wheel. Health under Villepin was combined with "solidarities" and handled by Bertrand, who has now been promoted to the inner circle of the cabinet, while health has been combined with sports and I think decreased in priority.

That's enough for now on the composition of the government. Although it's Pentecôte in France--a so-called "day of solidarity" in which people can choose to work for no pay to support the welfare of others--here in the US it is Memorial Day and time for a picnic.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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