31/05/2005

De Villepin appointed new French Prime Minister

In the wake of the failed EU Constitution referendum in France former Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin has been appointed as the country’s new Prime Minister.

Jean-Pierre Raffarin announced his resignation to President Jacques Chirac, following the devastating result of the country’s vote on the government-backed EU constitution at the weekend.

Almost 55% of the French public voted against the proposed constitution, although Mr Chirac’s government had campaigned strongly for a ‘Yes’ vote. Mr Chirac was expected to make changes to the Cabinet following the result.

Mr Raffarin, who had been Prime Minister since 2002, had proven to be unpopular with the French people, due to a number of reforms made during his time in office, including changes to pensions, and was viewed as having a poor record on employment.

Mr de Villepin, 51, is a former foreign minister who is best known for his defence of France’s decision to oppose the US-led war in Iraq. According to reports, Mr de Villepin’s position in the Interior Ministry is expected to be filled by Nicolas Sarkozy, the leader of Mr Chirac’s ruling Union for Popular Movement party, who had held the post before.

The second referendum on the EU constitution will take place in the Netherlands tomorrow. The result is widely expected to be another ‘No’ vote.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Tony Blair said it was too early to decide if Britain would hold a referendum on the EU constitution. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is expected to make a statement to the House of Commons next week. Yesterday, he said that discussions would be held regarding the future of the constitution at a meeting of the European Council on June 16.

However, Shadow Foreign Secretary Dr Liam Fox said that the French vote had “done us all a favour”. He said: “This is not a blow for Europe, it is a real opportunity to think again. The French people decided to reject big government and greater centralisation in Brussels. They have shown how out of touch the European political elite are with ordinary voters. It is now time to shape a Europe in the interests of the prosperity of ordinary citizens rather than indulging in the grandiose schemes of out of touch EU bureaucrats.”

The EU constitution needs to be approved by all 25 member states in order to be introduced in November 2006 as planned.

(KMcA/SP)

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