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Women Make Up More Than One-Third of the New French Cabinet

TIMES STAFF WRITER

New French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin unveiled his government Wednesday, breaking spectacularly with the stubborn misogyny of French politics by entrusting more than a third of its 16 ministerial portfolios to women.

Two Communists, an ecologist and figures from other parties on the French left received posts in a remarkably compact Council of Ministers as Jospin, a Socialist, strove to present as inclusive and workable a leadership team as possible to a citizenry increasingly doubtful that politicians will do what they promise.

Martine Aubry, 46, who was minister of labor from 1991 to 1993, when her Socialist Party last held power, was given the top-ranking and most vital charge of all, that of a newly created Ministry of Employment and Solidarity in a nation with one of Europe’s highest jobless rates.

Elisabeth Guigou, 50, another prominent Socialist, followed at No. 2 on the protocol list, becoming Keeper of the Seals, or minister of justice. It is a prestigious office, and one under great public scrutiny at a time when many of France’s politicians, left and right, are being investigated in corruption scandals.

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Among the four other female ministers and lower-ranking minister-delegates, Catherine Trautmann, 46, a rising Socialist star for her gutsy opposition to the extreme-right National Front in her home city of Strasbourg, will take charge of the Ministry of Communication and Culture and hold the high-profile job of government spokeswoman.

The first center-right government of Alain Juppe, who was succeeded by Jospin on Monday after the left won early parliamentary elections, had contained 12 women among its 42 ministers and secretaries of state when it was formed in May 1995.

But those women held mostly second-tier jobs, and all but four were given the boot when Juppe shuffled portfolios six months later.

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In choosing his team, which was approved by President Jacques Chirac and announced in the courtyard of the Elysee Palace on Wednesday night, Jospin, who promises to restore morality to France’s politics, visibly eschewed most of the big names of the scandal-smeared 1981-95 Socialist presidency of Francois Mitterrand.

However, one longtime confidant of the late president, Hubert Vedrine, 49, a lawyer who served as Mitterrand’s spokesman and then chief of staff, was named France’s new foreign minister.

Choosing Vedrine, a figure well known to German officials because of his close involvement with Mitterrand’s united-Europe policies, will send the reassuring message to Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s government that Jospin’s administration is bent on maintaining the Franco-German axis that has been the basis of closer European integration.

Since Vedrine also played a central role when Mitterrand was forced to rule with two center-right governments, from 1986 to 1988 and from 1993 to 1995, bringing him into the government is viewed as an indication that Jospin seeks a smooth “cohabitation"--power-sharing arrangement--with Chirac.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, 48, one of the masterminds of the economic plank of Jospin’s party, was named to lead a new superministry of economy, finances and industry. His new, sweeping responsibilities--a “grand economic ministry in the Japanese manner,” in the words of Gerard Tremege, president of the French Assembly of Chambers of Commerce and Industry--are meant to kick-start a stagnant economy and create jobs.

Strauss-Kahn, a former Socialist minister of industry who has cultivated ties with French business leaders, is expected to be a comforting presence for domestic and foreign financial circles worried about the effects of the Socialists’ tax-and-spend campaign pledges.

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The leader of the Socialist-allied Greens, Dominique Voynet, becomes minister of the environment and national development. At 38, she is the youngest minister in a government with an average age of 51 years.

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Half of the new ministers have previously held ministerial posts, giving France’s next government an equilibrium between experience and new blood. Its size--14 ministers, two minister-delegates and 10 secretaries of state--makes it roughly half as big as its forerunners since 1981.

France’s Communists, who signed a joint campaign declaration with the Socialists, were awarded two minor ministries: transportation and housing, plus the portfolio of youth and sports.

Socialist Segolene Royal, 43, who is fighting a battle to challenge former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius for speakership of the National Assembly, received what may be a consolation prize from Jospin: the post of minister-delegate in charge of public schools.

Alain Richard, 51, a Socialist senator who is a specialist in financial matters but a neophyte about the military, was made defense minister, in a signal that Jospin intends to ride herd on Chirac’s planned downsizing and professionalizing of the armed forces.


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