Hollande names ex-partner Segolene Royal to new French cabinet
In this Sept. 15, 2011 file photo, candidates for the 2011 French Socialist party primary elections Francois Hollande, left, shakes hands with Segolene Royal, right, while Manuel Valls, center back, looks on before a televised debate in Paris. (AP / Patrick Kovarik, Pool-File)
Sylvie Corbet and Greg Keller, The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, April 2, 2014 6:58AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, April 2, 2014 9:31AM EDT
PARIS -- Faced with a voter backlash at the polls, French President Francois Hollande is looking to revive his sputtering presidency with help from a surprising quarter: Segolene Royal, the mother of his four children.
Royal, a high-profile Socialist in her own right, was tapped Wednesday to take over as minister of environment and energy in the new government named by Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Hollande, following a crushing defeat for their Socialist Party in municipal voting Sunday.
Speaking on French television, Royal said she is "very honoured and at the same time I understand the importance of this major ministry in turning around the country and the job creation that goes with that."
Royal and Hollande will now meet weekly at the government's cabinet meetings -- starting Friday.
Her return to government follows a long period in the political wilderness. She ran for president in 2007, losing to Nicolas Sarkozy.
She was overlooked for a spot in the Socialist government that took office after Hollande's presidential victory in 2012, despite having served as minister for education and family in governments under Francois Mitterrand and Jacques Chirac.
Lifelong bachelor Hollande met Royal in 1978 during their studies at the Ecole Nationale d'Administration. They never married, and broke up in 2007 -- one month after Royal's defeat in the presidential election-- after almost 30 years together. Their two daughters and two sons are all grown.
Soon after splitting with Royal, Hollande made public a new relationship with the journalist Valerie Trierweiler.
After Hollande's presidential victory in 2012, Trierweiler was said to be opposed to seeing one-time romantic rival Royal enter the new government.
But Hollande and Trierweiler broke up last January a few days after a magazine published photos of what it said was the president, his faced obscured by a helmet, visiting an actress for a secret tryst.
Despite losing a battle for party leader in 2011 as well as her bid for a parliamentary seat in 2012, the 60-year-old Royal remains one of the Socialist party's most experienced leaders, and is noted for her interest in environmental issues.
Welcoming Royal into government helps Hollande plug a hole created by the departure of the outgoing government's two Green party ministers. The Greens -- a traditional ally of the Socialists -- refused to serve in a government led by Valls, who they see as too far to the right.
During his electoral campaign, Hollande had pledged to reduce the share of nuclear energy in the power supply from 75 per cent to 50 per cent by 2025, and to close the oldest French nuclear plant of Fessenheim. Ecologists criticized Hollande and the former government of Jean-Marc Ayrault for not pushing hard for these green goals.
The government shake-up was expected after Hollande's Socialist party suffered big losses in nation-wide voting for mayors and city counsellors last week. Voters turned against the Socialists amid disillusionment with Hollande's inability to keep campaign promises to bring down record unemployment and turn around the economy.
Following Wednesday's government shake-up, the ambitious Valls will have to cope with more leftist views of Hollande's entourage.
Laurent Fabius and Jean-Yves Le Drian keep their positions as foreign affairs and defence ministers in the new government. Former Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici has left the government and the brief has been split between two Socialists: Michel Sapin will take charge of finance, and Arnaud Montebourg will be in charge of industry and economy.
Sapin will have the tough job to negotiate with EU authorities regarding France's deficit.
The new government is composed of 16 ministers --eight men and eight women. Most were part of the outgoing government, with the exceptions of Royal and Francois Rebsamen, one of Hollande's closest friends, who was named minister of labour and employment.