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Macron replaces key ministers in French government revamp, but is it really a major shift?

French President Emmanuel Macron replaced key ministers in a long-awaited government reshuffle, announced on Monday. But will they really plot a "new course" for France or are they more of the same?

Macron replaces key ministers in French government revamp, but is it really a major shift?
AFP

Gerald Darmanin, until now budget minister, will replace much-criticised Christophe Castaner as interior minister, a troubled portfolio owing to alleged racism and violence among police forces.

Barbara Pompili, a former member of France's green party, will serve as the new environment minister instead of Elisabeth Borne. 

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Defence Minister Florence Parly and Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire all kept their posts, top presidential aide Alexis Kohler told reporters at the Elysée Palace.

But government spokesperson Sibeth Ndiaye was also replaced.

OPINION: Macron has chosen himself as prime minister and it's a huge gamble

Roselyn Bachelot, former health minister during the era of ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy was assigned the post of culture minister. In her time as minister she was once mocked by the public for having ordered too many face masks over a flu outbreak .

 

 

Olivier Véran, who shepherded France through the worst of the coronavirus crisis, kept his job as minister of health.

'Not a major shift'

Analysts said the changes did not reflect a major shift nor a “new direction” as Macron had previously declared.

Jim Shields, professor of French Politics at the University of Warwick, told The Local that the reshuffle was “a balance between continuity and change,” and that the reappointment of Le Maire and the new appointment of Darmanin respectively reflected “a nod to the right” and a “further not to the right”. 

“This might be described more as a new departure down the same path than a new path as such,” Shields said, pointing out that Macron was “keen to resume his reformist agenda” and that difficult reforms on pensions and health care awaited the new government.

“Time will tell whether it will be enough to bring a new élan to his presidency and boost his own re-election prospects,” Shields said.

In the biggest surprise of the reshuffle, star French criminal lawyer Eric Dupond-Moretti, famous for his record in winning acquittals for his clients, was named minister of justice.

Controversies

Macron named Castex as prime minister on Friday in place of Edouard Philippe after the governing party performed poorly in regional elections.

The nominations are made on the basis of proposals by the prime minister, but commentators have argued that, by replacing Philippe by Castex Macron decided to become his own PM. 

The promotion of Darmanin comes despite allegations from a woman that he raped her in 2009 after she sought his help in having a criminal record expunged.

Darmanin has denied the claims and the charges were dismissed in 2018. But earlier this year appeals judges in Paris ordered the reopening of the investigation into the allegations.

Pompili meanwhile faces the task of convincing voters Macron is serious on the environment after the Europe Ecology – The Greens (EELV), her former party, emerged as the main winners in the local elections last month.


 

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JOHN LICHFIELD

OPINION: Macron’s speech revealed his long game for France, but is it a game he can win?

In the wake of Emmanuel Macron's (unusually brief) speech to the nation and an orgy of blame and speculation, John Lichfield takes a look at how the turbulent months ahead are likely to play out in France.

OPINION: Macron's speech revealed his long game for France, but is it a game he can win?

In eight minutes on Wednesday evening, we saw the best of Emmanuel Macron and the worst of Emmanuel Macron. In his TV address to the nation, he was confident; he was solemn; above all he was brief.

He accepted that the hung parliament elected last Sunday reflected “deep divisions” in the country. He said that France  must “learn to govern differently…We must build new compromises…based on dialogue, open-mindedness and respect”.

But he failed to admit any share of responsibility in the impasse which voters have created. He said that he still had a “clear mandate” from his Presidential victory in April. He called for compromise but said that some of his own promises – no new taxes, no increased debt – were untouchable.

Hear more analysis from John and The Local team in our Talking France podcast.

In April, Macron acknowledged that he had won partly through the votes of people who disliked him but feared Marine Le Pen more. He promised to govern with them in mind. He hasn’t.

His alliance drifted through the parliamentary campaign without strongly defending Macron’s presidential programme, let alone coming up with new ideas to appease the voters, of Right or Left, who supported him on April 24th by default.

That is not the only reason for the mess that France is now in. Other factors played a part: voter fatigue; inflation; the perpetual French instinct to demand “change” but resist all changes; a campaign which largely ignored the gathering threats in the world outside.

France now finds itself, by accident, in a world which the present generation of French politicians have never known – a German, Italian, Spanish or Belgian world of coalitions, compromise and shifting alliances.

This was the world – a world of revolving-door governments –  which Charles de Gaulle devised the Presidency-dominated Fifth Republic to replace. Some argue that the return of parliamentary power will be A Good Thing.

It will generate more profound political debate and a culture of constructive compromise. I doubt it. The new National Assembly – with nine political groups, including large blocs from the Hard Left and Far Right – will be more bear-pit than Periclean Athens.

There has been a witch-hunt going on in the French media about who is “responsible” for the fact that Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National leaped from 8 seats to 89 in the new Assembly.

READ ALSO Is there really a ‘voter surge’ to the far-right in France?

The Left, both in France and abroad, has blamed President Macron’s Ensemble! alliance for failing to give clear advice to its supporters last Sunday to vote for the Left in two-way, second round contests with Lepennist candidates. As a result, they say Le Pen won at least 30 seats which might have gone to the Left-Green alliance, Nupes.

They fail to point out – and the French media has only belatedly started to point out – that exactly the same thing happened, only more so, with those Left voters who faced second round races between Macron and Le Pen candidates. Almost 60 percent of the Far Right victories – 53 – came in two-way contests  between the Rassemblement National and Macron’s Ensemble! alliance.

Exit polls vary but all of them suggest that voters of the Left  abstained, or even voted for Le Pen candidates, to “screw Macron” more than Macron voters abstained or voted Le Pen to “screw” the Left.

In effect, the Macron alliance and the Left-Green alliance shot themselves collectively in the feet by abandoning the so-called Republican Front against Le Pen. Each might have won at least 30 extra seats if both had voted for one another. The Macron alliance might even have just scraped a majority – which is presumably what Left-Green voters wanted to prevent.

A similar hue and cry is in progress against the Macron camp for its alleged willingness to work with Le Pen and her deputies in the new parliament. There has been some loose talk by some Macron allies. Most senior Macron lieutenants have ruled out deals or alliances with the Far Right bloc.

But what of Macron himself, who asked Marine Le Pen when they met on Tuesday whether she would contemplate joining a government of national unity? He asked the same of most of the party-leaders he met.

All refused and as Macron said in his eight-minute address, the idea is impractical and unjustified.

Why raise it at all then? Especially with Le Pen?

Partly, I think, because Macron believes that as President of the Republic he cannot pretend that the 89 Far Right deputies do not exist. Partly, I believe that Macron is playing a would-be clever waiting game.

He sees no real prospect of a long-term alliance with the 64 centre-right deputies. He expects in the short term to conduct  urgent business – including a new anti-inflation package  -through ad hoc alliances with the centre-right and moderate Left.

In the longer term, he believes (and maybe hopes) that such cooperation is doomed to fail. He wants to be seen to have given all combinations of parliamentary peace a chance before he “declares war” and calls a new legislative election next year.

Hence last night’s message. What are all the groups in parliament – including the three Macron-supporting ones – prepared to concede to allow the vital business of government to continue?

It might have been smarter politics if Macron had said, more clearly, that he also is ready to make concessions and listen to other people’s ideas.

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