Hollande Prepares Cabinet Overhaul as Election Looms

  • Socialist president faces backlash over constitutional change
  • Royal, Ayrault among possible candidates for Foreign Ministry

French President Francois Hollande may revamp his cabinet Thursday before addressing the nation in an effort to give his government fresh appeal as he embarks on the final 12 months of his five-year mandate.

The Socialist president needs to replace Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. This may provide an opportunity to bring in talent from other parties and tackle a revolt over a constitutional change affecting the nature of citizenship that has split his party. Hollande is scheduled to appear on the nation’s two main television channels at 8:15 p.m. Paris time.

With unemployment rate stuck at an 18-year high and France’s first real economic recovery under his leadership threatened by a global slowdown, Hollande has sought to bolster his standing by focusing on his role as commander in chief after last year’s terror attacks. Yet his push to strip convicted terrorists of their nationality has sparked a fierce debate in Socialist ranks, roiling his parliamentary majority.

“Reshuffles are often an attempt to give political coherence to the government,” said Emmanuel Riviere, a pollster at TNS Sofres in Paris. “There is so much confusion” over the citizenship issue that Hollande may bring in “other political formations, notably the ecologists, for support,” he said.

The required constitutional change was approved by the lower house of parliament Wednesday with the support of opposition lawmakers, though with the smallest number of Socialist votes of any legislation since Hollande came to power in 2012. The bill faces many hurdles before it could be passed, including a vote of three-fifth of all lawmakers, including senators.

Hollande’s approval rating dropped 8 points in the past month and 20 points in the past two months to 15 percent, according to a poll by TNS Sofres taken between Jan. 28 and Feb. 1. In 2014, his rating fell to 13 percent, the lowest on record for any French president.

The future of Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, who has expressed reservations about the constitutional change, and of Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who is driving it forward, will set the tone for the cabinet shake up. Justice Minister Christiane Taubira resigned over the matter but Macron has kept his job, while also pushing both Valls and Hollande to go further on economic reform.

Segolene Royal, currently environment minister and mother of Hollande’s four children, is being considered for defense or foreign affairs and former Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault is a possible candidate to take over the foreign ministry, according to press reports.

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