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Embattled Macron finally ends suspense by announcing government reshuffle

French President Emmanuel Macron finally put an end to the suspense on Tuesday morning when the names of the new members of his government were made public, including the interior, agriculture and culture ministers.

Embattled Macron finally ends suspense by announcing government reshuffle
Macron with his new Interior Minister Christophe Castaner. Photo: AFP

The announcement which was first expected last week and then delayed due to the deadly floods in south west France on Monday came in the form of a statement released by the Elysée Palace.

The most eagerly awaited name was that of the new interior minister who was replacing Gerard Collomb who had sparked the government crisis by resigning almost two weeks ago.

His job went to Macron's close ally and former Socialist MP Christophe Castaner, who had previously been Secretary of State in charge of relations with parliament.

That role will be taken by Marc Fesneau, an MP with centrist party MoDem.

READ ALSO: What the reshuffle means for Macron and for France

Castaner is one of the main figures in Macron's inner circle, having backed him from the early stages of his campaign for the presidency, and currently serves as head of Macron's party, the Republic on the Move (LREM).

The current head of France's domestic intelligence agency, Laurent Nunez, was named as his understudy at the interior ministry.

In other movements Jacques Mezard has been replaced as the minister for territorial cohesion by Jacqueline Gourault who had worked as a secretary of state at the interior ministry.

The key role of agriculture minister has been taken away from Stephane Travert and handed to Didier Guillaume, the president of the Socialist Party in the Senate.

Franck Riester, a member of the centrist group of MPs Agir – Les Constructifs takes over from Françoise Nyssen as Culture Minister.

There were also several other fresh faces in the government with new secretaries of states at various ministries.

Macron's popularity ratings have slumped to an all time low in recent weeks and he had been under pressure to name a new government. 

Macron's delay in carrying out the reshuffle, caused in part by his difficulty in convincing big names to join his team, has added to the sense of 
a loss in momentum after a fast-paced first year in office, analysts say.

Reports and rumours abounded in the French press that he was struggling to fill key roles with various individuals apparently refusing to work with the embattled and unpopular president.

There were also rumours of a reported bust-up between Macron and his prime minister Edouard Philippe, which were dismissed by the PM.

The Elysée said the delay in naming the government was due to the time needed to carry out background checks on the new ministers and secretary of states.

Macron will hope the reshaped government will signal a fresh start after a torrid few months. 

The centrist suffered the first major scandal of his presidency in July when a security aide was filmed hitting a protestor, while three ministers have quit since the beginning of September.

A slowing economy and concerns about spending power in France, coupled with a series of verbal gaffes that have given ammunition to his opponents, have also served to undermine his popularity.

Macron's polling numbers have slumped to their lowest level since his electoral victory in May 2017, with surveys showing that only around 30 percent of French voters have a positive view of his presidency.

 

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CRIME

French ex-minister convicted in fake jobs scam

A French court on Thursday found former justice minister Michel Mercier guilty of embezzlement in a fake jobs scheme he ran for the benefit of family members.

French ex-minister convicted in fake jobs scam

Mercier, 75, who served under former president Nicolas Sarkozy between 2010 and 2012, claimed tens of thousands of euros for his wife and daughter for parliamentary jobs  they never carried out.

The court handed him a suspended prison sentence of three years.

Mercier gave “personal gain precedence over the public good”, the court said in its verdict, calling Mercier’s actions “serious”.

As senator, Mercier claimed 50,000 euros ($54,000 at today’s rate) in salary for his wife Joelle between 2005 and 2009, and  €37,000 for his daughter Delphine between 2012 and 2014.

During that time, Delphine Mercier was living in London and did not set foot in the French Senate, but her father claimed she was acting as his “cultural advisor”.

Neither Mercier nor his daughter were able to provide any proof of actual work done.

Joelle Mercier, meanwhile, claimed during the trial that she had served as her husband’s representative at village fairs and funerals.

She was found guilty of conspiracy to embezzle public funds and of receiving stolen money and sentenced to a suspended prison term of 18 months and a €40,000 fine.

The court handed the daughter a 12-month suspended sentence and a fine of €10,000.

Prosecutors had asked for the ex-minister to serve one year behind bars, accusing him of “creating smoke screens” in his defence and seeking to mislead the court.

Mercier had based part of his defence on his rural roots, pitting his “common sense” against the “Parisians” of the national financial crimes unit PNF.

Several French politicians have been convicted for similar offences committed before France in 2017 banned National Assembly deputies and senators from employing family members.

The move came in reaction to a public outcry over a high-profile case involving former right-wing prime minister Francois Fillon, who was found guilty of providing a fake parliamentary assistant job to his wife that saw her paid hundreds of thousands of euros in public funds.

The “Penelopegate” scandal, revealed in a media report while he was the front-runner in the 2017 presidential race, torpedoed  his political career and cleared a path for then-relatively unknown Emmanuel Macron.

Last year, a court trimmed Fillon’s sentence to four years in prison with three suspended — down from five years with three suspended when he was first found guilty in 2020.

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