From Emmaus to Sarkozy

24 Maggio Mag 2007 0200 24 maggio 2007

Martin Hirsch was Emmaus-France's top man. Now he is high commissioner in the fight against poverty. Here is his story.

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Martin Hirsch was Emmaus-France's top man. Now he is high commissioner in the fight against poverty. Here is his story.

Many surprises have been in store for the French since Sarkozy?s election but it is now beginning to look as if a fully fledged political revolution is underway. If making the well known socialist, Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Foreign Affairs weren?t enough, the French neo-leader has now decided to shatter the traditional bipolar model (right vs left) by inviting Martin Hirsch to be on his team. Mr Hirsch is the (former) president of Emmaus ? France, an important association that was founded by Abbè Pierre to fight against poverty. The openness of the decision to include such a high profile figure of the non profit world into the new government has been a surprise to many.

Reducing poverty
His title will be ?High commissioner of active policies for solidarity? and the task will be to reduce poverty.
Mr Hirsch has accepted the role and justified his decision in an open letter posted on Emmaus-France?s website. In it he says that the ?new President has placed me in charge of guiding reforms that will guarantee new minimum standards for social assistance?. Mr. Hirsch has, reluctantly, had to give up his role as President of Emmaus-France a year earlier than expected but he did not accept the Ministry that Sarkozy had offered him ? his role will be akin to that of a State Secretary.

Differences of opinion
43 year old Martin Hirsch is one of France?s golden boys and an expert in social problems. His curriculum ranges from being cabinet director for Mr. Kouchner (coincidence?) to presiding a commission set up by the then Minister of Health and Social affairs, Philippe Douste-Blazy. 15 resolutions were drawn up with the help of union members, public agency representatives and political figures from both sides of the spectrum as well as experts in the different social disciplines. In his open letter Hirsch reminds the public that one of these has highlighted the need to reform the ?amount of minimum state provided social benefits?.

There are bound to be differences of opinion between Mr. Hirsch and Mr. Fillon?s team. Mr. Hirsch, in a recent interview with Le Monde, that he is aware of this possibility. However, he may not have expected these differences to become apparent so soon. No more than three days had gone by since his nomination that he was already expressing his doubts about the new tax-exemption systems that Sarkozy intends apply to the National Health Service - there is a financial hole in the French public health service (in 2007 almost 5 billion euros) . After long talks, Mrs Roselyne Bachelot, Health Minister, has finally declared that the most poor will be excluded from this reform. Mr. Hirsch commented that he was grateful and ?reassured?. But how long will his reassurance last?