Dominique de Villepin to replace resigning French PM

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Dominique de Villepin

President Jacques Chirac of France has accepted the resignation of prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and has named Dominique de Villepin in his place.

The resignation of Mr. Raffarin comes shortly after the resounding refusal of the ratification of the treaty establishing the European Constitution in a referendum. (See France votes no in EU referendum). While Mr. Raffarin was initially popular with the French citizens (polled at 60% of trust in 2002), he gradually lost support from the population, up to record levels; according to polls, only 22% of the population trust him (including only 2% who trust him strongly).

The prime minister has responsibility for the day-to-day running of the French government.

There are questions whether Mr. de Villepin, who has never held elected office and has ascended mostly as a Chirac aide, will be well-received by the population and by the parliamentary majority. His nomination was immediately criticized by left-wing politicians, as well as by the center-right Union for French Democracy, a junior partner in the ruling coalition, as a continuation of the same failed policies; Mr. Villepin was himself criticized as being out-of-touch with respect of the daily needs of the population. The Union for a Popular Movement, the party created for backing Chirac, has now rallied behind Nicolas Sarkozy, whose reciprocal distaste for Chirac and Villepin is well-published.

Jacques Chirac announced that Nicolas Sarkozy would be Minister of State (a honorific rank) in the government; it is yet unknown what his attributions will be, but it is rumored that he will become Minister of the Interior, a position whose main function is law enforcement and which he also held from 2002 to 2004. According to polls, Mr. Sarkozy is France's most popular politician. It is also well-known that Mr. Sarkozy and Mr. de Villepin see each other as a hostile competitor, particularly in the perspective of the 2007 presidential election.