PARIS French President Francois Hollande is to unveil his government on Wednesday, likely rewarding key players from his election campaign with top positions and placing a woman in charge of a new super ministry for youth and education.
The cabinet, which is to be announced in early afternoon, is expected to be drawn mainly from left-wing ranks, respect gender parity and reflect Hollande's pledge of making schools and youth employment a central priority for his administration.
Hollande, who flew to Germany to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel hours after being sworn in, chose prefect Pierre-Rene Lemas as his chief of staff and Germanophile Jean-Marc Ayrault as prime minister in a nod to good relations with Berlin.
However, some doubts still hung over the new president's choices for other top posts as senior Socialists and younger figures who emerged in the campaign jockeyed for leadership of key ministries such as Finance, Interior and Foreign Affairs.
"The new government will be unveiled tomorrow evening, so until then we will just have to wait in terrible suspense," said Laurent Fabius, a Socialist heavyweight and possible choice for foreign minister, told France 2 television.
With anxiety running high over Europe's debt crisis, Hollande is seen picking longtime friend and campaign adviser Michel Sapin as finance minister, tasked with shrinking France's budget deficit and reversing a spiralling unemployment rate.
Sapin, an archaeologist with no formal training in economics, wants to move away from blanket austerity measures which he says risk plunging the euro zone into a deep recession, and introduce measures to stimulate growth.
There is less clarity on who will take over foreign affairs from outgoing minister Alain Juppe, with many betting that one-time European affairs minister Pierre Moscovici, 54, will be rewarded for steering Hollande's election campaign.
A graduate of the elite ENA school for civil servants, Moscovici has good command of English and enough clout to represent France on the world stage. But he is a late convert to the Hollande camp and lacks the president's personability.
Another possibility is Laurent Fabius, who was prime minister at just 37 under Socialist former president Francois Mitterrand and served as finance minister for ex-Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in 2000.
But Fabius has strikes against him, having been dismissive of Hollande in the past and clashed with him in 2005 when he voted "no" in a referendum over a European Constitutional treaty that Hollande campaigned for.
Asked whether he would be waiting anxiously by his phone to hear the news, Fabius answered with a dead-pan "No".
Martine Aubry, an old-school Socialist who lost a party primary to Hollande, may head an expanded Youth and Education Ministry, while Manuel Valls, a young law-and-order Socialist, is seen as a likely choice for Interior Minister.
OPPONENT OF GLOBALISATION
As France struggles to contain a decline of its industrial base, Hollande is expected to pick an outspoken opponent of globalisation, the debonair 49-year-old Arnaud Montebourg, as Industry Minister to oversee his investment strategy.
A top choice for Defence Minister, overseeing plans to withdraw French troops from Afghanistan by end-2012, is longtime Hollande friend Jean-Yves Le Drian. But Fabius could be Defence or even Finance Minister if passed up for foreign affairs.
In keeping with his concern for gender parity, Hollande is seen choosing Aurelie Filipetti, a 38-year-old up-and-comer in the Socialist Party, for Culture Minister, while spokeswoman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, 34, is likely to get a junior post fighting discrimination.
(Reporting By Nicholas Vinocur; Editing by Michael Roddy)