Jean-Marc Ayrault is the new prime minister of France, named by a freshly-inaugurated President François Hollande. Since 1997, Ayrault has been the head of the socialist group in the French parliament, yet has never had experience as a government minister – like Hollande. He used to be a teacher of German. He is 62.
Jean-Marc Ayrault and Hollande are old friends. They sat side-by-side for many years in the Assemblée Nationale.
The new prime minister – son of a textile factory worker turned manager father and seamstress mother – has also been Mayor of the city of Nantes since 1989.
His deputy there, Jean-Louis Jossic, gave this assessment: “He is not cold, he is reserved, but as soon as there is a chance he shows his warm side. Then he drops the businesslike manner reserved for work and is a completely different person.”
Nantes, not far from France’s Atlantic coast, has been developed a lot in the last three decades largely under Ayrault’s direction. This has brought him not only praise but criticism.
One resident focused on a couple of major public works projects, saying: “Would I say he’s had a negative influence? Megalomaniac rather – a useless airport and a new hospital that shouldn’t happen – or could be done at a lower cost.”
Ayrault was behind Hollande’s bid for power from early on. During the presidential race, he was the go-between among various European parties of the left, notably the German Social Democrats in opposition.
With his understanding of the German language and culture, Ayrault could be a bridge-builder with Berlin, after Hollande’s demands that a German-inspired budget discipline pact for Europe be renegotiated, to shift the emphasis from austerity more to growth.