While the rest of the country enjoyed the Ascension pont or four-day “bridging weekend”, President Francois Hollande's government quietly rolled up its sleeves and got to work, sending a powerful signal to their compatriots.

One of the very first decisions they took was to reduce the salaries of the President, Prime Minister and his Cabinet by 30 per cent. The next dossier they will tackle will be to restore the retirement age from 62 to 60 years for those who started work early and have worked a full 42 years.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, in his first television interview, said there would be three conditions attached to the award of ministerial posts. Firstly, Ministers should give up all other jobs or remunerated activities. Secondly, they must sign an ethics charter and keep away from conflicts of interest, and thirdly, they must win their legislative seats in the forthcoming parliamentary polls scheduled for June 10 and 17. Failure to win a seat would mean automatic exclusion from the Cabinet, he said.

There are 34 Ministers in the new Cabinet, exactly half of whom are women. However, several women's rights organisations have grumbled that no woman has been awarded a “regalian” or very senior ministerial post such as the Interior, Defence, Foreign Affairs or Education.

The new Foreign Minister is the doyen of the group; Laurent Fabius, who served as Francois Mitterrand's Prime Minister in the mid-eighties. Many of the Ministers have top degrees in economics, philosophy or political science and several passed out from France's prestigious ENA or National School of Administration the same year as Mr. Hollande. The youngest member of the team is a 34-year-old woman of Moroccan descent, Najat Vallaud Belkacem, who will act as Mr. Hollande's spokesperson.

Socialist Party general secretary Martine Aubry is not a Minister. News sources here say she held out for the Prime Minister's post and stubbornly refused all other proposals including a super ministry that would include Education, Culture, Youth and Sports. Ms. Aubry, who is also the Mayor of the northern city of Lille, has said she would remain the party general secretary in order to give Francois Holland a strong parliamentary majority.

Focus on China

That Mr. Hollande has China very much on his mind is evident. Even as the Socialist candidate for the French Presidency he had sent Mr. Fabius, the new Foreign Minister, to establish contacts with the Chinese hierarchy. However, Mr. Fabius was not properly received and returned home miffed.

The new President has also appointed a seasoned China hand, well-known Sinologue Paul Jean-Ortiz, as his diplomatic Sherpa. Mr. Jean-Oritz was serving as Director, Asia and Oceania, when he was called to the new President's side.

No envoy of such import has been sent to India yet.

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