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ELECTION

Macron delays unveiling government to ensure ministers are squeaky clean

Emmanuel Macron postponed the naming of his new government by 24 hours on Tuesday to give authorities time to ensure ministers were not compromised by any conflicts of interest or suspicious tax records.

Macron delays unveiling government to ensure ministers are squeaky clean
Photo: AFP

The Elysée Palace released a statement on Tuesday afternoon announcing the delay saying it was to allow France's High Authority for Transparency of Public Life (HATVP) to carry out the necessary background checks on ministers.

At least that was the official reason. Many speculated that Macron and his Prime Minister Edouard Philippe were disagreeign over the names of potential ministers or just needed more time to complete what is a delicate balancing act.

Macron, a centrist, has promised to include faces from the left and right as well as political newcomers.

But according to the Elysée the HATVP will carry out an audit of each minister's tax records to make sure there are no skeletons hidden in the closet or more to the point secret bank accounts hidden in Switzerland, as was the case with former budget minister Jerome Cahuzac.

The body will also check there are no conflicts of interest that could compromise the ministers.

Macron has taken on the fight to clean up politics and does not want to risk being tainted by any scandal with June's crucial parliamentary elections just weeks away.

“These procedures are carried out in compliance with the law, in particular with regard to tax secrecy,” read a statement from the Elysée Palace on Tuesday.

“An in-depth procedure will be conducted on the tax position and declarations of interest of the members of the government after their appointment.”

Members of the government will also be forced to sign an “integrity” pledge that they are not engaged in illegal activities.

Ministers “will undertake to exercise their governmental functions in an irreproachable way,” read the statement.

On Monday, his first day in office, Macron named centre-right MP Edouard Philippe as prime minister and travelled to Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on reforming the EU.

On Tuesday, he and Philippe were finalising a government which Macron says will supersede France's entrenched left-right divide and breathe new life into the country's jaded political landscape.

Macron has said half his ministers will be women and that some will be high achievers in business, academia, the civil service or the NGO world.

Some could be replaced after next month's parliamentary election, depending on how many seats Macron's fledgling Republique En Marche (REM) party wins.

So far his appointments to his presidential team have all gone to men under 50, most of them graduates like him of France's elite ENA college for senior public servants — which has turned out generations of French politicians.

His choice of Philippe, 46, for prime minister was seen as a strategic pick by the 39-year-old president, who is trying to woo modernisers of all stripes to his side.

A former minister in the outgoing Socialist government, Macron has already convinced dozens of Socialist MPs to run on his general election ticket.

But he also needs to win over a part of the right to deliver on his promise of a cross-party approach and weaken his opponents ahead of the two-round June 11-18 parliamentary vote.

Philippe — a moderate member of the Republicans party whose presidential candidate crashed out in the election's first round — is seen as Macron's Trojan horse on the right.

While some in the Republicans fumed at Philippe's appointment, seeing it as a betrayal on his part, others welcomed it and urged the parties to accept Macron's “outstretched hand”.

“A whole section of the centre and the right is ready to cross the line,” the conservative Le Figaro daily wrote Tuesday.

Sole surviving Socialist minister

Among the people tipped for cabinet jobs are conservative ex-agriculture minister Bruno Le Maire, centrist MEP Sylvie Goulard, Lyon's Socialist Mayor Gerard Collomb and popular outgoing Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

Le Drian is expected to be the only member of the outgoing Socialist government to be kept on, with Macron keeping a careful distance from the little-loved administration of his predecessor Francois Hollande.

Among the non-politicians to be offered roles is well-known environmentalist Nicolas Hulot, a source in the presidency said.

Hulot, who has previously turned down such offers, had “decided to go for it”, provided certain conditions were met, the source said.

ELECTION

Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron

The far-right National Rally party led by Marine Le Pen finished top in European elections in France on Sunday, dealing a blow to pro-European President Emmanuel Macron.

Le Pen narrowly tops European election polls in France in blow for Macron
Marine Le Pen and Jordan Bardella. Photo: AFP

Results released on Monday morning by the Ministry of the Interior, which have yet to be formally verified and declared by the National Voting Commission, showed that the far right Rassemblement National (RN) party topped the polls with 23.3 percent of the vote, beating French president Emmanuel Macron's La Republique En Marche.

They were closely followed by Macron's party, which polled 22.4 percent.

Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron at a polling station in Le Touquet earlier on Sunday. Photo: AFP

The allocation of seats in the European Parliament has been complicated for France by the UK's delayed departure from the EU.

The Parliament had already decided that after Brexit, some of the seats that had been occupied by British MEPs would be reallocated to other countries, with France set to gain an extra five seats

However, last minute delays to Brexit meant that the UK had to take part in the elections, with the result that France will not gain its extra seats until Britain leaves the EU.

On last night's polling results, the RN will get 22 seats in the European parliament immediately, and an extra seat once Britain leaves.

Macron's LREM will get 21 seats now and 23 after the UK leaves.

The green party lead by Yannick Jadot was placed third with 13.4 percent of the vote, gaining 12 seats now and 13 after Brexit. 

The two parties that between them had dominated French politics for decades until the rise of Macron both polled in single figures. Nicolas Sarkozy's old party Les Republicains polled 8.4 percent, while the Socialist party of Francois Hollande was on 6.31 percent, winning them eight and six seats respectively.

Meanwhile the 'yellow vest' candidates scored just 0.54 percent of the vote, below the Animalist party which polled 2.17 percent.

Nathalie Loiseau with LREM party workers. Photo: AFP

Although a total of 34 parties fielded candidates in the European elections in France, the election had largely been framed as a contest between Macron and Le Pen.

Macron's La Republique En Marche party, its list headed by former Europe Minister Nathalie Loiseau, was contesting its first European elections.

Marine Le Pen, on the other hand, was hoping to replicate her 2014 European election victory with her Rassemblement National party, its list headed by a political novice, the 23-year-old Jordan Bardella. Bardella called the results a “failure” for the LREM ruling party and sought to portray Macron's defeat as a rejection by voters of his pro-business agenda in France and pro-EU vision.

Macron had made no secret of the significance he attached to the results, telling regional French newspapers last week that the EU elections were the most important for four decades as the union faced an “existential threat”.

Jordan Bardella, head of the RN list. Photo: AFP

He has jumped into the campaign himself in recent weeks, appearing alone on an election poster in a move that analysts saw as exposing him personally if LREM underperformed.

The score of the National Rally is slightly below the level of 2014 when it won 24.9 percent, again finishing top.

Le Pen had placed herself towards the bottom of the RN list, so she will be returning to the European Parliament, where she served as an MEP from 2004 to 2017.

Turnout at the polls in France was the highest in recent years, with 50.12 percent of people voting, significantly up from 35.07 percent in 2014.

Veteran France reporter John Lichfield said: “After six months of 'yellow vest' rebellion, that Macron list has 22 percent is respectable. Much better than President Hollande did in 2014 (14.5 percent).

“But he made the election all about himself and lost. His hopes of emerging as de facto EU leader or enacting more French reforms are damaged.”

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