Return of a blushing minister for U-turns

2nd June 1995 at 01:00
Though France has a new president and a new prime minister, Francois Bayrou remains the country's minister of education and faces the prospect of having to organise a referendum which he has publicly denounced.

President Jacques Chirac and his prime minister, Alain Juppe, have given M Bayrou, 44 this week, a brief which has been expanded to include higher education and research (which previously formed a separate ministry under Francois Fillon) and youth employment.

M Bayrou is likely to have to perform a dignified U-turn on the education referendum, which he openly criticised when M Chirac included it in his election pledges.

The minister has already had some practice at U-turns. In January last year he had to withdraw legislation that proposed increasing public finance of private church schools, following the biggest strikes and demonstrations in France for years in favour of state education, and after the Constitutional Court declared the law unconstitutional.

Also, his decree banning Muslim girls from wearing hidjabs (headscarves) to school has been annulled in recent weeks, though several pupils had already been excluded from school for doing so.

During his previous stint in the education ministry, M Bayrou announced a face-saving programme of ambitious reforms, not all of which have yet been introduced. Now he is back in charge he will face tough decisions on how they will be paid for.

M Bayrou is one of only nine ministers in the new government who backed the wrong candidate by supporting Edouard Balladur, President Chirac's fellow Gaullist and presidential rival. He is chair of the Centre des democrates sociaux, one of the parties of the centre-right Union pour la democratie francaise which, in turn, is the minority partner in the government coalition with the Gaullist RPR.

Fourth in seniority in M Juppe's administration, M Bayrou has the highest-spending ministry in France. Newly appointed lower-ranking secretaries of state are Jean de Boishue in charge of higher education, Elisabeth Dufourcq (research) and Francoise Hostalier (schools).

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