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POLITICS

Hollande puts economy in hands of ex-banker, 36

The French President revealed on Tuesday the names of the ministers in his new government tasked with pushing through crucial reforms. The key role of Economy Minister went to former banker and key Hollande ally, Emmanuel Macron, aged just 36.

Hollande puts economy in hands of ex-banker, 36
Emmanuel Macron, aged 36, is France's new Economy Minister. Photo: AFP

French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday named 36-year-old Emmanuel Macron, a former banker and a close ally, the new economy minister in an emergency reshuffle after a major political crisis.

Macron, 36, is close to Hollande, replaces rebel Arnaud Montebourg whose outspoken speech against the government's economic policy provoked the latest political crisis.

Interestingly Macron was behind the president's flagship economic policy the "Responsibility Pact", which calls for lower payroll taxes on businesses in the hope of boosting recruitment, which Montebourg was so opposed to.

The graduate from elite political school ENA is back at the Elysée after leaving his economic advisor job there only in July. He pushed the Socialist president towards implementing a more liberal financial policy as the country struggles with stagnant growth and record unemployment.

Macron is very different from his predecessor Montebourg, who is on the left of the Socialist party and advocates cutting taxes and upping government spending.

He will be joined at the Ministry of Finance, known as Bercy, by Michel Sapin, another Hollande ally, who backs austerity measures. Sapin holds on to his position as Finance Minister.

Top ministers, including Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, remained in their post as did Ecology Minister Segolene Royal, Hollande's former partner and Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve. 

Current Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll, also an ally of François Hollande also retained his post as Agriculture Minister and Christiane Taubira hangs on as Justice Minister, despite appearing to side with the rebels.

Marisol Touraine keeps her post as Minister of Health and François Rebsamen is Minister of Labour.

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the former minister of women's rights, was named as the education minister replacing Benoit Hamon, who along with Montebourg had spoken out against Hollande's and Valls's policies.

Replacing Aurelie Filippetti as Culture Minister is Fleur Pellerin.

Several names had ruled themselves of being in the government throughout the day including former Director General of the World Trade Organisation Pascal Lamy and late on Tuesday transport secretary Frederic Cuvillier also ruled himself out of joining the new government.

With France now dealing with a political as well as a financial crisis Hollande let it be known on Tuesday the new leadership will be a government of “clarity”.

The presidential palace announced that Hollande wants his government to be “clear” on “its direction, its behaviour and its composition".

“It is imperative the behaviour [of ministers] guarantees coherence, respect and solidarity,” the palace said.

As unpopular Hollande battles to overcome splits in his ruling Socialists and revive the stagnant French economy, Manuel Valls was expected to announce the make-up of his new team on Tuesday afternoon.

The surprise resignation on Monday was seen as a bid to restore order after a weekend of sniping from Montebourg, who attacked France's economic direction and the country's main European ally Germany.

Montebourg, a left-wing firebrand who is no stranger to controversy, made it clear he would not be part of the new team and launched a hefty broadside at the policies of austerity he said had catapulted France and Europe into the worst economic crisis since the 1929 Depression.

Education Minister Benoît Hamon and Culture Minister Aurélie Filippetti later said they would join him in self-imposed exile from the next government. 

Top French daily Le Monde described the reshuffle as "the last chance for the president to save his five-year term" as Hollande faces record-low unpopularity at 17 percent and record-high unemployment.

Their first cabinet meeting will be on Wednesday at 10am.

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POLITICS

French military bans Russians from chateau over Ukraine war

The French military has banned Russian nationals from visiting the Chateau de Vincennes, a medieval fortress, tourist attraction and military site on the edge of Paris, due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, officials told AFP.

French military bans Russians from chateau over Ukraine war

Once the residence of French kings and among Europe’s best-preserved monuments of its kind, the castle is for the most part open to the public, including for tours, concerts, theatre plays and other events.

But although best-known as a tourist attraction it is also technically a military site, housing part of the French armed forces’ historical archives, to which access is restricted.

The mounted Garde republicaine – a division of the French military – are also partially based at the chateaux.

It is therefore covered by a French ban on Russian nationals entering army territory that was issued after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

Each year some 150,000 people visit the chateau, paying €9.50 per adult admission.

But on July 28th, two Russian women were refused access.

“A guard at the metal detector asked to see my passport,” said one of the women, 31, who works as a journalist and has been in France for five months, having left Russia “because of the war”.

On inspecting the document, the guard informed her she couldn’t pass, the woman, who asked not to be named, told AFP.

Another guard also denied her entry and gave as the reason “because you are Russian”, she said, adding she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

Contacted by AFP, the defence ministry confirmed late Monday that it had, indeed, “restricted access to military installations to Russian nationals” because of the invasion.

But after media coverage and social media comment, the ministry contacted AFP on Tuesday to say that the guards had in fact “indiscriminately applied a rule established in February concerning all military installations”.

“This rule cannot be applied in the same way for strategic sites and for sites accessible to the public, such as museums,” a spokesman said.

The ministry said security staff would now be informed of the distinction “to avoid any further incidents of this kind”.

Russian journalists could, however, apply for an exemption, a ministry official added.

The majority of France’s most popular tourist sites have no military function and would not be affected by the ban. 

Since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine in February, France has taken in some 100,000 Ukrainian refugees, government figures show.

About 73,500 Russian immigrants lived in France in 2021, according to the national statistics office Insee.

There has been debate within the European Union about whether further limits should be placed on Russians visiting the bloc for tourism or personal reasons.

Russia’s neighbour Finland last week issued a plan to limit tourist visas  for Russians but also emphasised the need for an EU-level decision on the matter.

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