Christine Lagarde vacates her position as Minister for Financeto become the first woman to lead the IMF. Her former seat in theFrench cabinet will be taken over by François Baroin, until nowBudget Minister. To fill this position, Valérie Pécresse leaves heroffice in the Ministry of Higher Education and Research. Thisbrings us full circle as Wauquiez takes over Pécresse’s postjoining the cabinet as the youngest minister with only 36years.
Laurent Wauquiez has always been the Benjamin in his rapidpolitical career. Born in the Auvergne to a wealthy well-connectedfamily, he studied at three different universities infamous forgrowing the French elite of tomorrow: Ecole Normale Supérieure, theParis Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po) and ENA, theEcole Nationale d’Administration.
Media Darling Wauquiez
Having concluded his studies in 2000, Monsieur Wauquiez studiedArabic completing an internship at the French Embassy to Egypt inCairo. This was followed by a number of small political engagementsuntil his breakthrough in 2004, when he was elected deputy of HauteLoire to the National Assembly (tweede kamer). Playing with hisimage as an extraordinarily young parliament member being only 29,Wauqiez published his book “Un huron à l’Assembléenationale” in 2006. From this point on, he remained a truemedia darling to the French public.
Meanwhile, his career continued swiftly as he became spokesmanof the government by Prime Minister François Fillon in 2007. It wasalso under Fillon’s regime as Higher Education Minister thatWauquiez worked out a proposal to introduce general study grantsfor all students. This was meant to boost the status of lower andmiddle income students under the title “relancer l’ascenseursocial”.
During the municipal elections in 2008, Wauquiez again provedthat his young appeal comes in handy with the voters. WhileSarkozy’s UMP goes under in communities all over France, Wauquiezmanages to win in Puy-en-Velay, a then bastion of the socialistparty for 7 years. After serving as State Secretary in the Ministryof Economy under Christine Lagarde, he launches his own politicalparty, ‘Nouvel oxygène’, and political think tank called ‘La DroiteSociale’.
Rising Star in Times of Crisis
Between 2010 and 2011, Wauquiez works as Minister for EuropeanAffairs until a sudden turn of events promotes him into theposition of Minister for Higher Education and Research. As such, norevolutionary policies are expected from his Ministry as he pledgedto continue the policy reforms of his predecessor, Pécresse. In herterm, she introduced the University Freedoms and Responsibiliteslaw (LRU) which grants more autonomy for universities.
In the past, higher education was organized centrally by thenational government in Paris. From 2012 on, all universities willbe empowered to make decisions over their own budget, staff andresearch strategies. By-product of this is that universities areencouraged to build clusters fusing different écoles to biggerinstitutions.
New perspective in HE?
Such major changes may definitely appeal to a young rising starlike Laurent Wauquiez. Whether his former dream of introducingnationwide study grants to “relaunch the social escalator” willcome true is still unclear. With presidential elections in 2012,Sarkozy might take the chance to get in good terms with the middleclass and students.
Already in 2009, France borrowed massively from the financialmarkets in order to fund a higher education stimulus package worth€11 billion. Currently, Sarkozy is ailing in polls with around 22%of public support coming in second to Socialist leader FrancoisHollande with 26 %. Installing UMP talent Wauquiez to introduce newstudy grants then seems only logical.