Left upset by Sarkozy's overtures to conservative allies

Sarkozy's surprising pre-inaugural meetings with labor unions reflect his effort to distance himself from Chirac.

Sarkozy fillon 298 88 (photo credit: AP)
Sarkozy fillon 298 88
(photo credit: AP)
President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy faced his first political hurdle even before taking office Wednesday, with members of his own conservative party irked by plans to include rival Socialists in a government spanning the left-right divide. Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande denounced the overtures as "depraved" and "seductive" maneuvers designed to increase Sarkozy's power. Former Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin stepped in Tuesday to try to lower rising temperatures in Sarkozy's UMP party, saying it was important that the new president "share his project with people from other horizons." Some members of the Union for a Popular Movement who helped the conservative candidate win election May 6 have grumbled at overtures in recent days to Socialists, apparently fearing leftists could squeeze loyalists out of prominent posts. Sarkozy's surprising pre-inaugural meetings with labor unions and some leading Socialists reflect his effort to distance himself from his one-time mentor, outgoing President Jacques Chirac, and the economic stagnation and social tensions left over from his 12-year tenure. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, a die-hard Chirac loyalist, presented the outgoing president with his resignation on Tuesday. Sarkozy is widely expected to name conservative four-time minister Francois Fillon, a close confidant, to succeed Villepin. The widely popular Bernard Kouchner, a former Socialist health minister and founder of the Nobel-prize winning organization Doctors Without Borders, is among those being considered as new foreign minister. On Tuesday afternoon, Anne Lauvergeon, head of the nuclear group Areva and once a top adviser of former Socialist President Francois Mitterrand, was seen entering Sarkozy's office. Sarkozy also continued consultations with unions. With a streamlined government of only 15 ministers, half of whom are likely to be women, there was little room to reward the faithful with ministries. Aides to Sarkozy have put the accent on competence, not loyalty. Patrick Devedjian - who had been tapped as a potential minister in Sarkozy's Cabinet - bristled at the suggestion of Socialists in government, insisting that "loyalty is not necessarily the opposite of competence." Sarkozy confidant Brice Hortefeux told colleagues Tuesday to cut out the complaining. "Nicolas Sarkozy never promised a post to anyone," Hortefeux said on RTL radio. Sarkozy, elected with a mandate to rejuvenate France, takes office Wednesday, replacing Chirac, who was to address the nation Tuesday evening with a televised farewell message. Sarkozy was expected to name his prime minister on Thursday. Former Education Minister Francois Fillon was widely considered a shoo-in. The full government was expected to be announced within days, possibly as early as Thursday. The Socialist Party, whose candidate Segolene Royal lost to Sarkozy, was among those protesting his reaching out to the left, just as it tries to bolster its profile ahead of June legislative elections. Hollande, the party leader, said he spoke with Kouchner to warn him that "if he accepts, he will be in a government of the right, a majority of the right and have friends on the right.... Everyone must face his own conscience and (code of) ethics." Speaking to reporters, Hollande denounced the bid to lure Socialists to the government as a move by Sarkozy to increase his power and control, saying Sarkozy "backs away from no operation - seduction, depravity, intimidation, pressure." Former Socialist Justice Minister Elisabeth Guigou accused Sarkozy of trying to break the left ahead of the legislative vote next month. "I think ... those who accept are accomplices of a maneuver aimed purely and simply at smashing the left in the legislative elections," she said on France-Info radio. The new government will need as large a majority as possible in June legislative elections to easily pass the expected tough economic and social reforms.