25th Sep 2018

New French FM to repair Franco-German ties

  • Ayrault: " I am obviously passionate about Europe" (Photo: Parti Socialiste)

There will be a newcomer when EU foreign ministers gather on Monday (15 February), but one who has a leader's background. 

France's Jean-Marc Ayrault, 66, was appointed last Thursday as a replacement for Laurent Fabius, who was made president of the French constitutional council.

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From 2012 to 2014, Ayrault was president Francois Hollande's first prime minister. He had previously spent 23 years as mayor of Nantes, France's sixth most populated city, and 15 years as leader of the socialist group in the National Assembly.

His return to the cabinet is understood as Hollande giving back a high position to a close ally to counterbalance the power of prime minister Manuel Valls.

The appointment of Ayrault, a former German teacher, is also considered as a way of soothing ailing Franco-German relations as the two countries struggle to retain their position as the EU's political engine.

Europe's refugee crisis is the latest of the issues where the two countries take different positions.

At the weekend, during a security conference in Munich, Valls criticised chancellor Angela Merkel's policies.

"French media were asking: 'Where is the French Merkel?' and wanted to give the Nobel prize to the chancellor. Today, we see the results," he told reporters, referring to German difficulties coping with the number of refugees and pressures on Merkel to change track.

Taking office on Friday, Ayrault said that Franco-German initiatives "are decisive and will be decisive". He called on the two countries and on "all the EU member states" to"rapidly find together a renewed ambition" for Europe.

Staunch europhile

"We must give Europe a meaning and a perspective again," he said.

"Not only Europe's cohesion and solidarity are at stake but also the survival of the European project."

He told press in Brussels on Monday, referring to UK referendum talks and the refugee crisis: “My European engagement is total. I’m a convinced European and today we are at a turning point for Europe.”

He added: “My firm conviction is that Franco-German cooperation, which is essential, must again be fortified.”

Ayrault is expected to be more present in Brussels than his predecessor Fabius.

In 2014, after the European elections, he suggested he would like to be president of the European Council.


"I am not a candidate, but I look at everything. I am obviously passionate about Europe," he told a French radio at the time.

But his name quickly faded away in talks to find a balance between parties, countries and gender in the choice of EU leaders.

Now, as Brussels is full of rumours about the renewal of the term of the Council's president in 2017, one might wonder whether Hollande, a shrewd tactician, is not placing a piece on the board for the forthcoming negotiating game.

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