Sarkozy's appointment of Kouchner infuriates the French Socialists (AFP)
My friend, who rarely has a critical word for the European left, comments: "And in a new act of European political wisdom, the Socialist Party expelled Kouchner. Despite my German passport, I don't understand this pearl of perspicacity. Are the French socialists crazy or merely dogmatic imbeciles?"
I'm sure they had reasons that seemed good to them, and to a certain extent these were understandable and even predictable. Nevertheless, this gesture strikes me as unwise, even in purely public-relations terms.
Sarkozy has been widely regarded (and attacked) as a divisive political figure. His appointment of Kouchner (who, despite his outspoken advocacy of humanitarian idealism, is somehow one of France's most popular politicians) was clearly part of an effort to portray himself, rather than his opponents, as the representative of an inclusive national vision. (As the article notes, Sarkozy has also broken with precedent by giving roughly half his Cabinet positions to women and, for the first time, appointing a minister of North African origin.) The Socialist Party's reaction will probably just serve to confirm this impression, thus making themselves look narrowly partisan and helping Sarkozy outfox them.
But then again, who knows how such things play out politically?
(It might also be worth adding a caveat. The longer AFP article from which the one below was extracted, "France's Sarkozy picks all-inclusive cabinet", quotes a declaration by the head of the Socialist Party, Francois Hollande, that Kouchner is "no longer a member" of the party ... but I don't know whether that means he has been formally expelled ... or how much that detail matters.)
ABC News Online (Australia) (from Agence France-Presse)
May 18, 2007
Sarkozy's Socialist appointment infuriates left
The French Socialist Party has expelled one of its members for taking up a senior Cabinet post alongside the new right-wing President, Nicolas Sarkozy.
Mr Sarkozy has appointed left-wing human rights campaigner Bernard Kouchner to the position of Foreign Minister.
Mr Kouchner is the founder of aid organisation Doctors Without Borders, a former United Nations high representative in Kosovo and one of France's most popular politicians.
The 67-year-old supported Mr Sarkozy's Socialist opponent, Segolene Royal, during this year's election campaign.
The Socialist Party has accused Mr Sarkozy of trying to destabilise their party and claim the President will not give Mr Kouchner free rein over his portfolio.
The new President has vowed to break with France's political past. He has given half the Cabinet jobs to women and included a Minister of north African origin.
The new 15-minister team, announced a day after Mr Sarkozy named Francois Fillon as Prime Minister to lead his sweeping reform drive, is a radically slimmed-down administration that remodels several key ministries.
With the female ministers, France has now joined Chile, Finland, Spain and Sweden in seeking to end male domination of politics by creating gender parity in government.
The appointment of Mr Sarkozy's election campaign spokeswoman, Rachida Dati as Justice Minister makes her the first politician of north African origin to hold a top French Government post.
France has millions of immigrants of Arab and African origin but they are barely represented in national politics. Their lack of integration is said to have led to nationwide riots in late 2005.