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Key points: How Macron has reshuffled French cabinet for tricky second term

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday replaced a cabinet minister who is targeted by a rape probe, in a cabinet reshuffle after his ruling alliance lost its majority in parliamentary elections.

Key points: How Macron has reshuffled French cabinet for tricky second term
France's PM Elisabeth Borne waves during a ceremony in Paris in May. She and President Macron reportedly spent this weekend collaborating on a cabinet reshuffle. (Photo by Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

Main points:

  • After being accused of rape and placed under investigation, the Solidarity and Disabilities Minister Damien Abad has been replaced.
  • Macron loyalist, Clément Beaune, will switch posts from Minister of Europe to become Minister of Transport 
  • Former Health Minister, Olivier Véran, will be the new government spokesperson
  • Critics from both the left and right have argued the same people have been reappointed

After recently losing his absolute majority in the parliamentary elections, French President Emmanuel Macron reshuffled his cabinet in an attempt to a second term off to a rocky start. 

Abad, who has denied the allegations, later told reporters that he had been targeted by a “sinister movement” of “despicable slanders organised around a calendar” designed to drive him out of government after just 45 days.

He will be replaced by French Red Cross director Jean-Christophe Combe. 

According to the Elysée, the foreign, finance and defence ministers remained unchanged. This means that Catherine Colonna, Bruno Le Maire, and Sébastien Lecornu respectively will keep their positions. 

Gérald Darmanin will also stay in his post as Interior Minister, despite the fiasco surrounding the Champion’s League final and accusations that he lied over the causes of the chaos. Other posts in the 41-strong cabinet – exactly divided between men and
women – mostly went to politicians from the different factions in Macron’s camp.

However, just a month and a half after the last reshuffle, several high-profile roles have been changed, namely that of Clement Beaune, previously the Europe minister, and is known for playing a key role in Brexit negotiations.

In a surprise move, Beaune will now head the transport ministry in a cabinet reshuffle, while the chief economist of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Laurence Boone will take over as the new Europe minister.

The role of government spokesperson was also changed with the health minister from the previous government, Olivier Véran, given the role instead of Olivia Gregoire. 

Though the reshuffle replaced one minister accused of sexual assault, another accused minister was set to stay in her position.

Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, who has been accused of sexual assault in her role as a gynaecologist will remain in her current position of Secretary of State for Development, Francophonie and International Partnerships.

Other ministers, like those for health and environment who stepped down from their positions after losing their parliamentary elections, have also been replaced in the reshuffle.

Christophe Bechu, mayor of the Loire city of Angers and a key ally of former prime minister Edouard Philippe, was named environment minister, replacing Macron loyalist Amelie de Montchalin who lost the battle for her seat in the parliamentary elections.

The president of Samu-Urgences de France, François Braun, will replace Brigitte Bourguignon as Health Minister, after Bourguignon also lost her parliamentary election.

Reactions from across the spectrum

The cabinet reshuffle has not been met with applause by all parties, however. After the announcement of the new environment minister, Greenpeace France criticised the appointment, saying Bechu has “no experience of what’s at stake in the green transition and has almost never taken a stance on national or international questions of climate or the environment.”

The reshuffle was “a message to the troops: loyalty will be rewarded. Looking ahead to the coming months, when passing new laws is likely to come down to just a few votes,” tweeted Frederic Says, a political commentator for broadcaster France Culture.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen charged that “those who failed are all reappointed” to the government. Communist head Fabien Roussel told broadcaster LCI it “feels like they’re just starting over again with the same people”.

While Macron’s ruling alliance won the most seats in the June 19th parliamentary polls, it lost its majority and will need now to build coalitions to push legislation through parliament.

The outcome was seen as a major setback for the president, who won a second presidential term in May after defeating far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

This reshuffle comes just ahead of French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne’s government programme announcement, which is scheduled for this upcoming Wednesday, June 6th.

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JOHN LICHFIELD

OPINION: France has two presidents – one is confident, the other weak and directionless

France has two Emmanuel Macrons: one is strangely depressed and directionless, the other confident and clear, writes John Lichfield. But which one will emerge in his second term as president?

OPINION: France has two presidents - one is confident, the other weak and directionless

There is a global Emmanuel Macron, confident and clear; and then there is a domestic Emmanuel Macron, who sometimes appears petulant and indecisive.

Global Macron is admired by many people outside France for his eloquence and his intelligence. He is also mocked and feared by some people abroad (especially in the Brexit camp in Britain) for his alleged pretentiousness and arrogance (in other words for his eloquence and intelligence).

For Global Macron, it has been a good couple of weeks. 

His speech to the United Nations General Assembly this week was the best given by any world leader.

He placed the Ukraine war in a sweeping, global and historical context, lambasting allegedly “neutral” countries for failing to stand up for the core UN principles of national sovereignty and territorial integrity. The “fake” non-aligned countries were, he said, betraying not just the values of the UN but their own interests.

Macron has also been word perfect in his tributes to the Queen.

He obtained little credit for that fact from the hardest-line,  professional Macron-haters in the UK media. They preferred to concentrate on the fact that he wore posh trainers during an informal visit last weekend to the enormous queues of people waiting to file past Her Majesty’s coffin in Westminster.

King Charles has, however, seized on this opportunity to improve relations between France and Britain which Liz Truss had ignored. After a dinner with Macron in London last Sunday, the new king is reliably reported to have decided that his first state visit next year should be to France.

So much for the global Macron.

The other Macron, the domestic president, is newly re-elected but strangely weak and directionless.

His popularity in opinion polls is fading. He seems unable to come to terms with his loss of his parliamentary majority in the legislative elections in June. He has yet to give a clear road-map for his second term to his newly renamed Renaissance party and their centrist allies.

(REMEMBER: You can listen to John Lichfield discuss the crisis on the French left and the mixed fortunes of Emmanuel Macron in the latest episode of our Talking France podcast below)

He has alternated in recent weeks between Blood, Sweat and Tears warnings to the French people that they face a cold and difficult winter and a generous (but reluctant) decision to extend domestic energy subsidies for another full year.

He has alarmed some of his own allies by raising the possibility that he might use his emergency constitutional powers to push pension reform through a divided National Assembly.

At the same time, he has pressed ahead with his vague plan for a grandiloquently-named Conseil national de la Refondation (National refoundation council). This body is supposed to find common ground between Left and Right, unions and bosses, to “refound” the French welfare state created just after the 1939-45 war.

On the one hand,  Macron says that he wants to find a new social consensus for the 21st century. On the other hand, he says that he wants to charge, without negotiation, into the social and political minefield of pension reform.

In a briefing with journalists earlier this month, the President suggested that he could avoid a lengthy negotiation with unions and the parliament to increase the standard French retirement age (now in theory 62). Changes in system could be tacked onto the annual social security budget next month and then pushed through the Assembly, in effect, by decree.

This week, the government back-pedalled. No decision has yet been taken, they say. One of Macron’s principal allies, the veteran centrist leader, François Bayrou, warned that any attempt to impose such a transformation on French lives by force would be a calamity.

How can we explain the two Macrons?

Partly, they reflect the constitutional powers given to French presidents. On international affairs and European affair, Macron can go largely his own way. On domestic policy, if he has no majority in parliament, his powers are limited.

I believe, however, that the problem runs deeper. There have been reports for months that Macron suffered after his re-election in April from a “drop in energy” or a period of depression.

The second half of his first term had been brutally occupied with non-stop management of the Covid and Ukraine crises. His attempts at mediating with Vladimir Putin had been a discouraging failure.

After his victory over Marine Le Pen, Macron drifted for weeks, delaying his decisions on a new Prime Minister and a new government. He was strangely absent from the parliamentary campaign in June (well below the limits imposed by his position as head of state).

Macron’s distraction contributed to his failure to win a new parliamentary majority; his lack of a majority has, I believe, compounded his mood of indecision and depression.

What to do with five years of a second term? Should he accept that his only role is now crisis-management? After all there are crises enough to manage.

Is the career of the self-proclaimed revolutionary of 2017 finished at the age of 44?  He cannot run again in 2027. He faces the prospect of five years of managerialism and drift while attention switches to his possible successors, from Edouard Philippe in the centre to Marine Le Pen on the Far Right.

“Macron is a magician who has lost his wand,” says one pro-Macron parliamentarian. “He’s still searching  for a way forward, a sense of direction. In short, he has the blues.”

By comparison with French politics, international crises are simple. Macron has clear ideas about the place of France and Europe in the world. He can express himself, both off the cuff and in set-piece speeches, with elegance and intelligence.

Macron has had no other position in elected politics than President of the Republic. He has no background as local or parliamentary politician. The prospect of five years of grinding negotiation to achieve quarter-baked reforms is, I believe, appalling to him.

Hence, his domestic zig-zagging.

He faces three choices in the next few months. He can accept a role as a manager of crises and minimal reforms; he can risk a Yellow Vest-type revolt by using, maybe abusing, his limited constitutional powers to impose change.

Or he can hope for an opportunity in the first half of next year to call a new parliamentary election.

Which way will he go? I don’t know. Nor, I suspect, does Emmanuel Macron.

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