The Lady’s Back – Ségolène Royal Nominated Ecology Minister

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New French PM Manuel Valls nominated his cabinet today, elevating the flamboyant Montebourg to Economy and bringing in his president’s ex-partner to Ecology

Whatever one can say about the government of Francois Hollande, it’s certainly not dull. After a torrid few years in his personal life and with his back to the wall politically, all the attention was focused today on his ex-partner and mother of his four children Ségolène Royal. Now, the couple who had separated in their private lives only a few years ago, are back together again in government.

Under the system of governance of the Fifth French Republic, the President of the Republic nominates his Prime Minister, who then has a completely free hand to nominate his cabinet. Those chosen don’t necessarily need to be elected public representatives (although they usually are).

One wonders what Hollande made of his new prime minister’s choice of the third most senior minister in the cabinet. Her full title is Ministre de l’Écologie, du Développement Durable et de l’Énergie (Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy).

The move marks the return to centre-stage of the political scene for the delectable Ms Royal after a long hiatus on the relative fringes. The former Socialist presidential candidate will find herself in familiar territory with this new posting: From April 1992 to March 1993, the (then) 39-year-old was Minister for the Environment under Prime Minister Pierre Bérégovoy and the presidency of François Mitterand. About ten years ago, she held the Education portfolio.

The importance of environmental issues have changed greatly since the Mitterand era, however, and Ms Royal will be dealing with some of the hottest issues in France today, including the eco-tax (that gave rise to enormous resistance in Brittany in particular) and the great national debate on the very future of nuclear energy.

In a recent interview with magazine Paris Match, she already gives an indication of how she will lead her ministry: “One cannot be content with mere window-dressing any more – it’s too late. We have to turn the situation around, decide, make radical choices.” These are not likely to be mere idle words either. Ségolène Royal has already forged a reputation of not shying away from hot talking points or difficult decisions. This is the woman who, while Minister of the Family, called to account in her office the heads of the national television stations to express her distaste for inappropriate programming for the Youth of France.

Ms Royal said that she was “very honoured” by the nomination to Manuel Valls’ government and to a “ministry of major importance in getting the country back on its feet.

“At the same time,” she continued in a statement, “I understand the challenge that this represents… within the context of the rehabilitation of the country and the creation of jobs that go with that. It’s a ministry that I know well as in 1992, I was already Minister of the Environment. And also, you are aware of the way in which the region (The Poitou-Charentes region, of which Royal has been president since 2004) has been working towards environmental excellence… what is important is to turn these words into action.”

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