IMAGE: FRANCOIS FILLON
Jacques Brinon  /  AP
Francois Fillon, named French prime minister Thursday, has earned a reputation of being a reformer within the ruling Union for a Popular Movement.
updated 5/17/2007 3:29:38 PM ET 2007-05-17T19:29:38

President Nicolas Sarkozy on Thursday gave the post of prime minister to fellow conservative Francois Fillon, who promised to carry out Sarkozy's sweeping program for change and assure France an "eminent" place in the world.

Like Sarkozy, Fillon served under Jacques Chirac, who was replaced by Sarkozy on Wednesday after 12 years as France's leader. Both Sarkozy and Fillon have a reputation as reformers within the ruling Union for a Popular Movement.

Fillon, 53, pushed through difficult retirement reforms while social affairs minister from 2002 to 2004. He was education minister from 2004 to 2005, acquiring a reputation for efficiency.

Fillon has been Sarkozy's near constant companion in recent weeks. During the presidential campaign, Sarkozy called Fillon "more than perfect."

Slimmed-down Cabinet
As prime minister, Fillon will be charged with applying Sarkozy's policy of "rupture" with the policies of Chirac, who was often accused of inaction.

Sarkozy aides said the rest of the Cabinet was expected to be named Friday. It is expected to be a slim government of just 15 ministers, half of them women.

Socialist Bernard Kouchner, an eminent leftwing figure and co-founder of Medicins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders), has been tapped for the post of foreign minister, but there has been no official word as to whether he has accepted the job.

During a brief ceremony in which outgoing Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin handed over power to Fillon, the new head of government said he would carry forth Sarkozy's mission.

Fillon pledged to "assure an eminent place" for France and rally the nation in a "spirit of outreach."

Promoting unity along with reform
Echoing Sarkozy, he promised to defend the heritage and identity of France and keep the nation together while pushing through changes.

"In a world of 6 billion people, the 60 million French people must remain united," he said. "I will respect all of the commitments we made."

Sarkozy took office Wednesday with a vow to pull France out of economic stagnation, lower social tensions and inspire new confidence among his compatriots.

Sarkozy has drawn up a busy agenda for his first months in office. He plans to propose major reforms in July, including making overtime pay tax-free to encourage people to work more.

Another change would ensure tougher sentencing for repeat offenders, and a third would toughen criteria for immigrants trying to bring their families to France. He also wants to curb the ability of unions to cripple France with strikes and make it easier for companies to hire and fire workers.

The facility with which these reforms will be enacted depends in large measure on the outcome of June legislative elections and the strength of Sarkozy's parliamentary majority.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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