UPDATE 1-Macron emphasises EU in French foreign, defence ministry postings

Wed May 17, 2017 7:03pm GMT

(Adds details, context)

By John Irish

PARIS May 17 (Reuters) - France's outgoing defence minister was appointed to run a newly created Europe and Foreign Ministry on Wednesday and an ardent European took over his old portfolio, cementing President Emmanuel Macron's pledge to give the 28-nation EU new impetus.

The 69-year-old Jean-Yves Le Drian is a 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. However, the decision to put Sylvie Goulard, a European expert, into his old role instead, was a surprise and further emphasises Macron's European push and desire to work towards greater defence integration.

A European lawmaker who speaks four languages, Goulard is respected in Brussels as a straight talker, having acted as adviser to former European Commission president Romano Prodi.

A close ally of Macron, she ranks above Le Drian in the government hierarchy, and becomes only the second woman to head the ministry, which reverts to its pre-1974 name of Ministry of the Armed Forces.

That adds to the emphasis Macron has put on his role as commander-in-chief of the armed forces by his drive down the Champs Elysees in a military jeep on his inauguration day, his visit to injured soldiers, and his preparations to see French troops in Africa on Friday.

"In both cases this is a strong European signal. Sylvie Goulard is a professional European, which can only mean one thing - that European defence is one of the priorities," said Francois Heisbourg, chairman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.   Continued...

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