Fillon has experience of dealing
with France's unions [AFP]
Francois Fillon, France's new prime minister, is seen as a safe pair of hands and a competent politician.

His experience working with the country's unions is seen as key if Nicolas Sarkozy is to push through his ambitious reforms.

Fillon has been rewarded for successfully masterminding Sarkozy's election campaign and he shares many of his policy ideas.

The 53-year-old's quiet demeanour was seen as complementing Sarkozy’s active personality during the campaign.

Although he is relatively unheralded on the international stage he has some key achievements to his name in domestic politics.

As social affairs minister in the right-wing government of  Jean-Pierre Raffarin in 2003, Fillon was the architect of a law on pension reform.

Despite union-led protests that brought more than a million people onto the streets the new laws were seen as necessary.

A year earlier he had relaxed France's much-disputed 35-hour week brought in by the Socialist government.

Reform-minded

The changes allowed for overtime and pushed back deadlines for extending the shorter workweek to small businesses.

In 2005, protesters were again on the street to demonstrate against his reforms as education minister.

He was soon fired by then president Jacques Chirac after the French rejected the EU constitution prompting Fillon to remark "no one will remember anything of Chirac but my reforms".

His falling out with Chirac had come far later than that of the new president but both Sarkozy and Fillon irked Chirac when they backed his conservative rival Edouard Balladur in the race for the presidency in 1995.

Fillon has his roots in the social wing of the ruling conservative party, formerly the Gaullist RPR, now rebranded as the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) and was largely loyal to Chirac for many years.

'Fire and water'

He became Sarkozy’s political adviser in 2004 and his unassuming style led the Le Monde newspaper to describe the two as "fire and water". Sarkozy himself once referred to Fillon as  "anti-Sarkozy."

The length of Fillon’s tenure will depend on parliamentary elections next month when Sarkozy will seek to avoid the prospect of a cohabitation with a Socialist prime minister.

Fillon will have his work cut out to bring about Sarkozy's bold agenda of reforms that include cutting taxes, making it easier for French companies to hire and fire and curbing the ability of unions to bring the public transport system to a standstill during frequent strikes.

But his patient handling of the unions in the past augurs well.

Fillon was born in the town of Le Mans in 1954 and has represented the region as a member of the national assembly and of the senate.
 
He led three junior ministries in the mid-1990s, before becoming social affairs minister from 2002 to 2004 and education minister from 2004 to 2005.

He is married to Penelope Clarke, with whom he has five children. He speaks fluent English.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies