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Allègre? Non! No Second Act For Controversial Former French Science Minister

PARIS—Some French scientists breathed a sigh of relief yesterday evening after President Nicolas Sarkozy had announced a major reshuffle of his cabinet. Despite months of intense speculation, the controversial geochemist Claude Allègre, a global warming skeptic who was once France’s science minister, is not on the new team. Rumor had it that Allègre, 72, might head a new superministry of innovation and international trade.

During his stint as research and education minister from 1997 until 2000, Allègre clashed fiercely with French scientists over his reform plans for the country’s research portfolio. Of late, he has gotten into hot water for questioning the role of humans in global warming, and some scientists and environmental activists had warned that his appointment would make a mockery of Sarkozy’s green ambitions and weaken France’s credibility during upcoming climate talks in Copenhagen.

Allègre fell out of favor with the Socialist Party’s establishment in 2007 after harshly criticizing presidential candidate Ségolène Royal, and left the party soon after. He reportedly gets along well with Sarkozy, and there had been rumors about a cabinet post several times before. In a 9 May interview with Le Journal du Dimanche, he hinted that he might be asked to lead a new department resembling the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry, a big  research funder. “That’s the type of thing that interests me and that interests the president,” he said.

The past few weeks, however, speculation about Allègre died down, and some believe the massive win for the green party Europe Écologie at the 7 June European Parliament elections doomed his chances. According to Le Monde, the creation of a new ministry was also opposed by current Minister for Higher Education and Research Valérie Pécresse, who would have seen part of her portfolio disappear.