In an attempt to unite the political left (and thus improve his chances of reelection in France’s 2017 presidential race), President Francois Hollande last week broadened his cabinet to include members of smaller, left-wing parties. The return of three Greens party members to the Hollande government, including Party National Secretary Emmanuelle Cosse, who was appointed housing minister, and Left Radical Party head Jean-Michel Baylet, who was appointed minister for local authorities, underscores Hollande’s effort to ready himself for 2017.

As detailed by APCO’s Paris team, the changes will have notable impacts as Hollande’s government manages a busy political agenda while gearing up for a presidential election. The return of the Greens to the Cabinet will have an influence on certain debates, especially the biodiversity bill. The move will also affect foreign policy, particularly given Hollande’s appointment of former Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development. The appointment of Ayrault, a staunch supporter of the president, will mostly likely allow Hollande to devote more time to domestic affairs in coming months.

To read more about the details of the reshuffle and their impact on the political agenda and upcoming election, please download the note written by APCO’s team in France in English or French.

Further Insights From Around APCO

Claire Boussagol, managing director, Brussels
For observers from Brussels the principle perspective on the French government reshuffle was that it was preparation for the 2017 elections by President Hollande. Recalling Socialist apparatchik and former prime minister Ayrault, alongside a “radical” (Jean-Michel Baylet) and clutch of ecologists, is taken as Hollande’s play to widen his internal party base and his appeal across the country. There are after all just fifteen months left before the presidential elections. 
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was perhaps a lone voice greeting the appointment of a Ayrault as Foreign Affairs Ministers, but stronger ties with Germany are going to be welcome in Paris and Berlin. That said, commentators in Brussels noted that President Hollande made no mention whatsoever of any burning European matters (Brexit, migrants…) during his Thursday evening reshuffle announcement.
Questions have also been raised on President Hollande’s ability to deliver on his stated “top priorities” (these being security, job creation and the environment, all unchanged from previous statements), given his first term’s “achievements” of record unemployment, a stagnating economy and the country’s worst-ever terror attacks.

Leon Cook, director, London

President Hollande’s strengthening of his domestic left flank through his cabinet reshuffle has seen the appointment of Jean-Marc Ayrault, a solid and experienced pro-EU Foreign Minister. The appointment of a very senior left-wing politician, though not a traditional Hollande ally anymore, indicates that the Elysee is looking for an experienced man to drive its increasingly complex political agenda. While the decision has drawn much critique in France and is seen as a 'shuffling of the pack,' there has been minimal coverage of the reshuffle on this side of the Channel.

Ayrault’s new job entails a tricky ask when dealing with his British counterparts. On the one hand, Ayrault needs to work closely with London to maintain a cohesive European front against Russia and in the fight against the Islamic State terrorist group. On the other hand, Ayrault is now also France’s Europe Minister, and in that role he will be tasked with handling a potential UK exit of the European Union pending a ’ o’ vote in the European referendum. Having previously served as Prime Minister, Ayrault knows David Cameron and his colleagues in the Foreign Office well, with whom he will notably have to discuss how best to engage with Russia, especially over Ukraine and Syria. This promises therefore to be an interesting and difficult time for Franco-British relations which lately have become strained as a result of Hollande’s unwillingness to appease his British counterparts over Brexit. Mr Ayrault’s plate is full.  

Robert Ardelt, managing director, Berlin
The French government reshuffle is seen in Germany as Francois Hollande’s approach to rekindle with voters in preparation of the 2017 presidential election. With ratings at a record low, many are of the opinion that Hollande had little choice but to bring in representatives from the left-wing of his Socialist party, the Greens and of the radical left into government. However, German commentators underline that it is – as expected from Hollande –  still a compromise, or one German daily commented: “a tempest in a teapot”. This is largely because key figures such as Manuel Valls and Emmanuel Macron remain in power.

The appointment of Jean-Marc Ayrault to the post of Foreign Minister is viewed as a signal to Germany to restrengthen the Franco-German relationship. The former French Prime Minister is not only fluent in German, he also has strong ties to the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). So, no surprise, Germany’s foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and other high-ranking Social Democrats here warmly welcomed Ayrault’s appointment.

Claire Boussagol

Claire Boussagol, chairman, Europe and managing director of APCO Worldwide’s Brussels office has 26 years of experience providing strategic counsel and managing complex EU and French public affairs and communication assignments. Read More