New blow for Hollande as firebrand minister’s attack forces reshuffle

Firebrand minister's attack on policies and EU ally Germany puts unpopular president on spot

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 August, 2014, 4:47pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 August, 2014, 12:54pm

France was thrown into fresh political turmoil yesterday as President Francois Hollande told his prime minister to form a new government, following a much-criticised show of insubordination by a firebrand minister.

It is the second reshuffle in just five months as the ruling Socialists struggle to pull France out of the economic doldrums and the government is riven by infighting between left-leaning party members and those such as Prime Minister Manuel Valls who veer more to the centre.

A presidency statement said Valls had offered the resignation of his government - a formality that allows him to form a new cabinet - and the new line-up would be announced today.

The presidency did not give any reasons, but the move came after Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg bad-mouthed France's economic direction and the austerity policies of European powerhouse Germany, angering Valls.

"You have to raise your voice. Germany is trapped in an austerity policy that it imposed across Europe," Montebourg said in an interview with Le Monde newspaper published on Saturday.

Then in a speech on Sunday, Montebourg said he had asked Hollande and Valls for a "major shift" in economic policy.

He was joined in his criticism by the education minister Benoit Hamon, who yesterday denied that he had been disloyal. A third minister, Aurelie Filipetti, appeared in danger of losing her job after wishing a "good day" on Twitter to the two dissidents.

Montebourg said he would not figure in the reshuffled cabinet. He told reporters: "I believed it necessary to take back my freedom in the same way he [Valls] accepted to give it to me.""What will I do with this new freedom? ... I will go back and work with the French, for them. I will continue to defend ... what I think is right for France," he added.

Valls, who has said he will not tolerate any form of insubordination among his ministers, has not yet reacted in person.

But his entourage said on Sunday that Montebourg had crossed a line.

The 51-year-old left-wing minister is no stranger to controversy, having made headlines in the past for his criticism of ally Germany, which he has blamed for factory closures in France.

The latest reshuffle comes at a time when France is mired in stubbornly slow economic recovery, with unemployment high.

Additional reporting by The Guardian