Jean Castex is a senior French civil servant with neither a face nor a name well-known to the French.
As he was named as the official successor of Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Friday, after Philippe resigned that same morning, many people asked: Jean who?
Jean Castex who?? Even in #France, the name of the next PM has fallen with a dull thud. “Il n’est pas connu du grand public,” (“he’s not a household name”), quips a commentator. Everyone scrambling to figure out who this obscure right-wing local prefect is. @FRANCE24
— Douglas Herbert (@dougf24) July 3, 2020
OK, who's writing the English language Wiki page for Jean Castex?
— Lauren Collins (@laurenzcollins) July 3, 2020
But the 55-year-old from the south-western département of Gers has a long political history that includes working for ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy and his reputation as a stout technocrat has earned him the nickname of a “Swiss army knife”.
Here's five things to know about France's new prime minister.
1. He lead France out of lockdown
A senior civil servant, Castex is best known for his role as head of the government's déconfinement (easing of lockdown) strategy.
When Emmanuel Macron put Castex in charge of ending the nationwide confinement, he confided him with one of one of the most delicate tasks in the history of his presidency.
So far, the results have been good – much better than initially feared.
France has been able to successfully ease out of lockdown without provoking a big resurgence in the number of coronavirus cases. The government radically ramped up its testing capacities, which has allowed local authorities to quickly identify and break up transmission chains.
2. He's from the political right
Castex's politics are resolutely right-wing and has said in the past that his is “completely comfortable with that fact.”
Castex, like his predecessor Edouard Philippe, has a history in the conservative party Les Républicains, and was elected as a republican mayor of Prades, a small municipality in the Pyrenees, in 2008.
More than 10 years later he remains popular among the 6,000 inhabitants who reelected him by a roaring majority (75 percent of the votes) in the first round of the French local elections.
A lot of talk about Macron preparing to pivot leftward post-lockdown, especially after local election results… but newly-appointed PM Jean Castex is a right-wing mayor, just like Édouard Philippe. #lemondedapres
— Cole Stangler (@ColeStangler) July 3, 2020
3. He used to work with Nicolas Sarkozy
While Castex has never held a minister post, he did serve as Deputy General Secretary at the Elysée presidential palace under former President Nicolas Sarkozy from 2011-2012.
Jean Castex, 55, known as “Monsieur Deconfinement” (Mr End-of-Lockdown) named new French PM. He is a senior civil servant, never been a minister, but was deputy general secretary at the Elysée under Nicolas Sarkozy. Seems Emmanuel Macron will be running France single handedly!
— Kim Willsher (@kimwillsher1) July 3, 2020
Castex was twice chief of staff for Xavier Bertrand, who was health minister and then labour minister under the presidencies of Jacques Chirac and Sarkozy.
At the time Castex had to deal with a number of sensitive cases, such as a pension reform and a law which forced strikers in the transport sector to provide a minimum service.
4. He is known as a “Swiss army knife”
He earned this nickname because of his ability to “do it all,” according to French analysts. He has longstanding experience in the public health sector and has earned himself a reputation as a credible technocrat.
“He's a fine technocrat that is able to fill many roles at the same time,” said Jeremy Ghez, an associate professor at the Paris business school HEC.
“He is able to get things done without being a 'star',” Ghez told The Local.
5. He's not a Parisian
While Castex has a classic political profile in that he was educated at the French Ecole Nationale d'Administration in Paris – known as something of a factory for future politicians – he is not a “Parisian-Parisian,” said Ghez.
“He is firmly politically anchored in the Pyrenees, at a time when the coronavirus has shown the crucial role local authorities played on front line of the health crisis,” Ghez said.
Philippe himself called Castex “a senior civil servant who knows the health world perfectly well and who is impressively efficient.”