Paris: French President Francois Hollande on Thursday broadened his cabinet to include the heads of two smaller left-wing parties, looking beyond his Socialist party in a bid to improve his faltering chances of re-election in 2017.
Dogged by deep unpopularity and public anger over unemployment, Hollande hopes the reshuffle will widen his voter appeal and discourage other leftist candidates from running against him.
But one left-winger just declared his intention to be a candidate in 2017 and analysts swiftly cast doubt on the possible impact of a reshuffle that brings in no charismatic heavyweight and does not change the government`s policy agenda.
Besides handing portfolios to the Greens and the centre-left Radical Left Party, Hollande recalled his former prime minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, seen as a safe pair of hands, to head the foreign ministry. The appointment of the veteran German-speaker was immediately welcomed by Berlin.
Michel Sapin stays on as finance minister and Emmanuel Macron as economy minister, and the government is expected to largely stick to the pro-business line it switched to two years ago.
"This government must act, reform, move forward," Hollande told French television.
He said his new three-pronged focus would be on fighting unemployment, now at 10.6 percent, ensuring security after France was hit by Islamist militant attacks that killed 130 people in November, and protecting the environment.
"There is no change of course, but Hollande is trying to broaden his appeal by bringing on allies, expanding his base beyond the Socialist party to boost his chances to qualify for the presidential election run-offs," Ifop pollster`s Jerome Fourquet said.
In French presidential elections, only the top two candidates in the first round make it to the run-off. As of now, Hollande is far from certain to reach the second round.
"Opinion polls now show that the National Front`s Marine Le Pen will most likely make it to the second round so it`s crucial for Hollande to do all he can to boost his chances in the first round," Fourquet said.
Another problem for Hollande is that left-wing firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon said late on Wednesday he would run for the presidency again next year, a move that risks splitting the left-of-centre vote.
Besides, the nomination of Greens leader Emmanuelle Cosse, who joins as Housing Minister, is controversial within her own party. Two party spokeswomen said in a statement that the party disapproved of her joining the government and that this meant that she was de-facto no longer party chief.
Two dissident ecologist lawmakers, who left the divided Greens party last year precisely because it was becoming increasingly critical of the government, also joined the cabinet as secretaries of state.
The head of the small Left Radical Party, Jean-Michel Baylet becomes minister for local authorities.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: "I`m happy that Jean-Marc Ayrault, the former prime minister, who has strong ties with Germany is now the successor in the foreign ministry. I say to Jean-Marc: welcome and looking forward to our cooperation in the future."
After two years as prime minister at the start of Hollande`s mandate, Ayrault was dropped in favour of the younger and more thrusting Valls. He replaces Laurent Fabius, who is leaving to head France`s top constitutional council.