Report September 2014 (Government Reshuffle)

Ministers’ Rebellion leads to Government Reshuffle

France, 14 Aug – 10 Sep 2014

Government reshuffle in midst of ongoing political trouble ++ President’s ex publishes nasty accusations ++ Freed hostages identify their tormentor.
by Matthieu Choblet

Government reshuffle in midst of ongoing political trouble

French President François Hollande asked Prime Minister Manuel Valls to assemble a new government following the departure of three ministers, including the eloquent if somewhat insolent Arnaud Montebourg. Opinions defer on whether it was more of a resignation – as the official line goes – or if the ministers were actually forced to leave. In either way, the divide between the head of the executive and the three rebels or frondeurs as they are called in France had been obvious for a while and became even clearer in the last weeks.

“It is not possible to have a proper discussion with François Hollande anymore. Discussion with him are friendly, but useless” claims Montebourg in an interview recorded in June 2014 but only published now. The final brake up occured after Montebourg’s renewed criticism of the prevailing economic policies in the Eurozone. Indeed, Montebourg, who had swapped the sober title of Minister of the Economy for a shiny ‘Minister of Industrial Renewal’ is known for his decided leftist and interventionist stance.

His resignation gave rise to accusations that Hollande and Valls were neither able to reign in insubordination inside of the Socialist party (PS) nor to stick to the progressive election pledges of 2012.

At the PS’ annual summer convention in La Rochelle an angry chorus of trade unionists greeted Valls with boos and hostile shouting: “Sick of those right wing governments”, “traitor”! A gleeful Montebourg commented: “I see myself as one of those states men whose destiny it is to be dismissed when they are right”. The discourse of the Valls and Hollande supporters sounded far less confident, when they invoked a need for the Socialists to be “realists” and to “show unity” when “all are looking at us”. Yet, the “mighty upheaval” which the frondeurs had announced did not happen either.

Montebourg’s successor and new Minister of the Economy is Emmanuel Macron, former banker and economic adviser, who took part in the design of the so-called pact of responsibility (see French Report March 2014/2).


President’s ex publishes nasty accusations

Valérie Trierweiler, former first lady and Hollande’s partner for nine years, published a book that casts a damning light on the President. In Merci pour ce moment (Thank you for this moment) Hollande appears as a cynical liar who despises most of the French people – particularly the poor or, as he allegedly calls them, “the toothless ones”. The timing of these accusations is more than inappropriate for the President who struggles to convince people he still is the left-wing politician who intends to do everything better than his right-wing predecessors.

Almost no one in France is willing to publicly confirm Trierweiler’s claims and critiques were harsh. Yet the first 200,000 copies sold like hot cakes. With an estimated gain of at least 600,000 euros, will it matter to the author if she doesn’t win a literature award?


Freed hostages identify their tormentor

Four journalists, who had been detained for ten months in Syria, identified one of their tormentors on pictures and video recordings provided by the police. It appears to be Mehdi Nemmouche, who is also the prime suspect in the shootings at the Jewish museum in Brussels.

Nemmouche left France in December 2012 and headed to Syria where he probably served for the jihadist group “Islamic State”. He returned to Europe in March 2014 and was arrested in May. His former captives reported how they were beaten every night by a small group of French speaking Jihadists. “The torture went on every night until the morning prayer”, recalls Nicolas Hénin in his memories. The disclosure of the terrorist’s identity and his curriculum, from a petty criminal raised in France to an international terrorist and torturer, reinforced feelings of insecurity among French people.

While politicians discus military action against Islamists in Africa and the Middle East, the public debate falters between xenophobia, general fear and a rational critique of criminality and religious fundamentalism. The latter proves to be a particularly hard challenge for the laical republic.


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