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‘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

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POLITICS

French police hold 10 over Channel boat disaster

French police were holding 10 people suspected of involvement in the November 2021 Channel drowning of migrants in which 27 people died, a judicial source said on Thursday.

French police hold 10 over Channel boat disaster

One has been charged with manslaughter and people-trafficking, and the nine others were to be taken before a judge who will decide whether to charge them as well, the source said, asking not to be named.

Police had arrested 15 people suspected of involvement overnight Sunday to Monday, but released five of them without charges.

The death of the 27 in late November was the worst disaster in the Channel since 2018, when the narrow strait became a key route for migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia who have been increasingly using small boats to reach England from France.

Among the 27 — aged seven to 47 — were 16 Iraqi Kurds, four Afghans, three Ethiopians, one Somali, one Egyptian and one Vietnamese migrant.

Only two people survived the disaster, which sparked tension between the British and French governments, with President Emmanuel Macron vowing France would not allow the Channel to become a “cemetery”.

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