FRANCE'S new education minister Jack Lang has moved quickly to soothe the teaching unions whose protests led to the dismissal of his predecessor, Claude Allegre.
It is the second time that Lang, 60, has held the post. He served in the culture ministry for 10 years in the 1980s and early 1990s and took on the education portfolio for a year before the defeat of the socialist government in 1993.
Allegre's chances of political survival vanished after it became clear that his relations with the teaching unions - and many other groups - were so bad that no progress could be made in talks over the many differences between the education ministry and teachers. He was removed in a reshuffle at the end of March.
Lang, a cofidant of the late President Francois Mitterrand, met leaders of the main secondary-school unions within a few days of taking over.
Although he insisted that he was not in office to keep things quiet, but to pursue the task of transforming the education service, the atmosphere at the meeting was reported to be relaxed. Union leaders said that, unlike his predecessor, he had listened and taken copious notes.
Until his surprise appointment, Lang was seeking the Socialist nomination for mayor of Paris.
Allegre, a friend of Jospin's, had ruffled feathers from the start, with references to the need to "slim down the mammoth (the state education system)" and inaccurate statements about the level of teacher absenteeism.