‘Jean who?’ 5 things to know about France’s new prime minister

The French government has gotten a new leader: Mr. Deconfinement, Jean Castex. But who is he and why is he nicknamed "Swiss army knife"?

'Jean who?' 5 things to know about France's new prime minister
Jean Castex (left) was named as the new Prime Minister of France on Friday. Here he is shaking hands with President Emmanuel Macron during the inauguration of a handball stadium in Créteil, outside Pa

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?



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.

'The only good strategy': How France is trying to stop a coronavirus resurgence in Paris' poorest suburbs

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.


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.


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.”

Member comments

  1. 3 corrections:
    – past tense of lead is led (unlike read/read)
    – Macron ENTRUSTED Castex with easing lockdown
    – Castex is not a “dyed in the wool” Parisian

  2. Sorry, more corrections:
    – Here ARE five things (although “Here’s” + plural is often heard in spoken English)
    – He’s never held a MINISTERIAL post

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Revealed: France’s funniest politicians and their best ‘jokes’

Politicians' jokes are more usually met with a groan than a laugh, but France's annual prize for political humour has been awarded - here are the zingers judged the best in 2022.

Revealed: France's funniest politicians and their best 'jokes'

According to the jury on the Press club, Humour et Politique awards, the funniest politician in France is the Communist leader (and 2022 presidential candidate) Fabien Roussel.

His award-winning zinger is: “La station d’essence est le seul endroit en France où celui qui tient le pistolet est aussi celui qui se fait braquer.”

It translates as ‘the petrol station is the only place where the one holding the gun is also the one who is robbed’ – a joke that works much better in French where ‘pistolet’ means both a pistol and the petrol pump. 

On a side note for British readers – Roussel also looks quite a lot like left-wing UK comedian Stewart Lee, so maybe he has funny genes.

Second prize went to ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy with his withering assessment of Valérie Pécresse, the candidate for his old party in the 2022 presidential election, who did extremely badly.

“Ce n’est pas parce que tu achètes de la peinture, une toile et des pinceaux que tu deviens Picasso. Valérie Pécresse, elle a pris mes idées, mon programme et elle a fait 4.8 pourcent”

“It’s not because one buys paints, canvas and brushes that you become Picasso. Valérie Pécresse, she took my ideas, my manifesto and she got 4.8 percent of the vote.”

While these two were jokes – in the loosest sense of the word – the prize can also be awarded to politicians who make people laugh inadvertently, such as last year’s winner Marlène Schiappa who, when announcing plans to ban polygamy, felt the need to tell the French, “On ne va pas s’interdire les plans à trois” – we’re not going to outlaw threesomes.

Here’s the full list of finalists for the funniest political joke of 2022 – somehow we don’t think you’re at risk of split sides with any of these.

Ex-Prime minister Edouard Philippe talking about hard-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon: “Il faut une certaine audace pour que quelqu’un qui a été battu à une élection où il était candidat puisse penser qu’il sera élu à une élection où il n’est pas candidat!”

“It takes a certain audacity for someone who was defeated in an election where he was a candidate to think that he will be elected in an election where he is not a candidate!”

Ex-Assemblée nationale president Richard Ferrand: “Elisabeth Borne est formidable mais personne ne le sait.”

“Elisabeth Borne is great but no-one knows it.”

Ex-Macronist MP Thierry Solère: “Mon anatomie fait que si j’ai le cul entre deux chaises, je suis parfaitement assis.”

“My anatomy means that if I have my ass between two chairs, I am perfectly seated.”

Some information that might be useful for this one – the French phrase avoir le cul entre deux chaises (to have your ass between two chairs) is the equivalent of the English ‘falling between two stools’ – ie a person who cannot make up their mind what or who to support. Further information; Solère is a largish bloke.

Hard-left MP Eric Coquerel: “S’imaginer qu’on va remplacer Jean-Luc Mélenchon comme ça, c’est une vue de l’esprit. C’est comme se poser la question de qui va remplacer Jaurès.”

“To imagine that we will replace [party leader] Jean-Luc Mélenchon like that, is purely theoretical. It is like asking the question of who will replace Jaurès.”

Jean Jaurès is a revered figure on the French left, but not currently very active in politics, since he was assassinated in 1914.

Rachida Dati to Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo: “Votre présence au Conseil de Paris est aussi anecdotique que votre score à la présidentielle.”

“Your presence at the Council of Paris is as anecdotal as your score in the presidential election.”

There’s no doubt that Hidalgo did humiliatingly badly in the presidential election with a score of 1.75 percent. Daiti didn’t stand in the presidential elections but she did put herself forward to be mayor of Paris in 2020 and was convincingly beaten by . . . Anne Hidalgo.

So that’s the ‘jokes’, but there were also some entries for inadvertently funny moments.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo: “Tous les matins, je me lève en me disant que tout le monde m’aime.”

“Every morning, I wake up and tell myself that everyone loves me.”

But the undisputed queen of this genre is the green MP Sandrine Rousseau, whose ideas and policy announcements seem to have provoked a great deal of mirth.

Je voudrais qu’il y ait une possibilité de délit de non-partage des tâches domestiques – I would like there to be the possibility of a crime of not equally sharing domestic tasks

Les SDF meurent plus de chaleur l’été que l’hiver – The homeless die from heat more in the summer than the winter

Il faut changer aussi de mentalité pour que manger une entrecôte cuite sur un barbecue ne soit plus un symbole de virilité – We must also change our mentality so that eating a steak cooked on a barbecue is no longer a symbol of virility.

If you prefer your humour a little more scientific, Phd researcher Théo Delemazure has done a study of which politicians and political parties are funniest when speaking in parliament.

He analysed how often speeches raise a smile or a laugh (which presumably includes sarcastic laughter) and concluded that the party that gets the most laughs is the hard-left La France Insoumise.

They are also the party that speaks most often, however, when he calculated the laughter rate per time spent speaking, the prize went to the centre-right Les Républicains.