Source AP ©

French Cabinet meets not in Paris

For the first time in 31 years France's government met in not in Paris, but in Strasbourg.

Thirteen senior and eight junior ministers convened at the offices of the regional government to discuss state support to the eastern-French region of Alsace and Strasbourg's status as France's European capital, among other issues. Only the defense and foreign ministers missed the session because of other commitments, President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said.

It was the first government reunion in the provinces since Valery Giscard d'Estaing took his Cabinet to Lille in 1976.

Sarkozy said he decided to relocate his ministers to Alsace to get closer to the citizens.

"What do you expect from me, to stay in the Elysee every day of the week listening to the same people? No, I don't want to lose contact with you," Sarkozy said Thursday in Colmar, a town south of Strasbourg.

The majority of ministers arrived by the high-speed TGV train on the new Paris-Strasbourg line that was inaugurated in June. Sarkozy announced that works to refurbish the remaining 105 kilometers (65 miles) of the line where the trains still ride on old tracks would start in 2010, and that travel time to Paris would be cut by a further 30 minutes to 1 hour, 50 minutes.

Strasbourg is a symbolic choice for Sarkozy, who wished to underline the pro-European orientation of his government. Senior French politicians often go to the city on the German border - the seat of the European Parliament and Council of Europe - to proclaim their allegiance to Europe.

Sarkozy himself stopped by here during his presidential campaign in February, unveiling his European agenda. France wants Strasbourg to remain the official seat of the EU assembly, despite a mounting campaign to have it moved permanently to Brussels.

Next month, the government plans to hold a session on the Mediterranean island of Corsica.

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