Battle over Austerity Collapses French Government

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Battle over Austerity Collapses French Government

French president and prime minister announce creation of a reshuffled government lined with pro-austerity loyalists, excluding dissenters

French President François Hollande's approval ratings are at a record-low of 17 percent. (Photo: Jean-Marc Ayrault/CC)

French President François Hollande took the dramatic step Monday of dissolving the country's government in the midst of a heated row over unpopular austerity policies—a move that effectively forced austerity critics from their positions and created a new cabinet of loyalists.

The upheaval marks the second time in less than five months that Hollande has orchestrated a shake-up of the French cabinet and comes amid rising opposition to the austerity policies of the president, whose approval rating has plummeted to 17 percent.

Amid a growing rift within the Socialist Party over austerity, Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg was featured in an interview with French paper Le Monde, published Saturday, in which he called for the president to abandon the country's "dogmatic" austerity policies, which he charged as "absurd" and subservient to Germany's far-right political forces.

In response to this and other public criticisms from ministers—which John Palmer describes in the Guardian as an "austerity revolt," Hollande's office released a statement Monday announcing that Prime Minister Manuel Valls has been tasked with forming a new government "that supports the objectives [Hollande] has set out for the country."

Later on Monday, Montebourg stated at a press conference, "I informed the prime minister.... that if he deemed my convictions counter to the direction of the government he leads, then in that case I thought it necessary for me to be let go," the BBC reports.

Austerity critics Education Minister Benoit Hamon and Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti have similarly been forced from the government. Filippetti told RMC Radio and BFMTV on Tuesday that austerity policies across Europe are "leading to an impasse" and declared that her ideals are "obviously not compatible with membership of the next government."

The new cabinet, unveiled Tuesday, includes hefty promotions for Hollande's supporters, with former presidential adviser Emmanuel Macron slated to take Montebourg's place as Economy Minister.

The turmoil comes amid plummeting approval of the Socialist Party, which has moved further to the right amid rising unemployment and poverty in France. Meanwhile, support for the extreme far-right National Front is on the rise, with the party polling high for France's 2017 Presidential race.

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