PARIS May 17 France's outgoing defence minister
Jean-Yves Le Drian was appointed to head up a newly created
Europe and Foreign Ministry on Wednesday, a move cementing
Emmanuel Macron's campaign pledge to focus on giving the
European Union a new impetus.
The 69-year-old Le Drian is a longstanding close friend of
former Socialist President Francois Hollande, a rare popular
minister in Hollande's deeply unpopular government and an
experienced political heavyweight by the standards of some of
his new ministerial colleagues.
He backed Macron early on, and had been tipped to retain the
defence portfolio. The decision to put Sylvie Goulard, a
European expert, into his old role instead, further emphasises
Macron's European push.
Le Drian will also be supported on the Europe portfolio by
junior minister Marielle De Sarnez, a centrist European expert
who has been a member of the European parliament since 1999.
An advocate of closer EU integration, Macron backs a
"multi-speed" Europe, an idea that has earned growing support in
Germany and other EU countries since Britain voted to leave the
In the past, France has often been seen by its allies as an
intransigent, go-it-alone power because of its military
interventions in arenas like Libya, the Middle East and the
Macron wants deeper security cooperation with Europe, but he
may find it hard to break the mould of predecessors Francois
Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy.
"This shows Europe is the priority," a French diplomatic
source said of the fact that the foreign ministry portfolio does
not usually officially include Europe.
"He's very serious and well-liked but doesn't know that much
about foreign affairs."
Le Drian was seen as the driving force behind France's
counter-terrorism operations in West Africa and the Middle East,
and a key player in efforts to fight the threat from Islamist
militants at home by putting some 10,000 soldiers on the streets
A former university history teacher, he has spent 35 years
in politics and is president of the Brittany region.
He is also credited with leading a resurgence in French
weapons' exports that have resulted in billions of euros in
deals, including the first exports of the Rafale fighter jet
made by french companies Dassault Aviation and Thales
Keeping him in government should also ensure continuity in
negotiations currently underway.
(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Andrew Callus)