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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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ENERGY

EXPLAINED: Why are French energy prices capped?

As energy prices soar around Europe, France is the notable exception where most people have seen no significant rise in their gas or electricity bills - so what lies behind this policy? (Hint - it's not just that the French would riot if their bills exploded).

EXPLAINED: Why are French energy prices capped?

On most international comparisons of rising energy prices, France is the outlier – but the government control of energy prices is not in fact a new policy and was in place well before the Russian invasion of Ukraine sent gas and electricity prices soaring.

At present prices for domestic gas are frozen at 2021 levels and electricity prices can only increase four percent per year. According to economy minister Bruno Le Maire, without these measures French bills would have risen by 60 percent for gas and 45 percent for electricity.

Both these measures – collectively known as the bouclier tarifaire (tariff shield) – are in place until at least the end of 2022, and could be extended into 2023.

The extension of the price shield was confirmed by parliament earlier in August – part of a €65 billion package of measures aimed at tackling the cost-of-living crisis – but had been in place for much longer.

Tariff shield

The reason that gas prices are frozen at 2021 levels is that the freeze came into effect on November 1st 2021 – well before Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

The measure was initially put in place to help people deal with the economic after-effects of the pandemic, but was extended in the spring of 2022, when electricity prices were also capped at four percent.

Price regulation

But although prolonged price freezes are unusual, the French government involvement in price-setting is completely normal and during non-freeze periods, a rate is set each month.

If you read French media (or The Local), you’ll notice regular articles on ‘what changes next month’ which include gas and electricity prices, usually expressed as a month-on-month percentage rise or fall. This refers to the maximum rate that utility companies are allowed to increase their charges per month.

The government-set rate refers to the basic price plan from EDF. Some people are on special deals or time-limited tariffs, so if their deal or payment plan ends and they go back onto the basic rate, they can see a rise above the government rate.

Around 85 percent of households in France get their electricity from EDF. 

READ MORE: Reader Question: Why did my French electricity bill increase by more than 4%

State-owned utilities

So, why is the government involved? Well, it’s the majority stakeholder in EDF, the country’s largest electricity supplier, and owns Gaz de France (Engie). 

At present EDF isn’t completely state owned – although there are plans to fully nationalise it – but it owns 84 percent.

The French state owns a lot of service and utility companies including the country’s rail provider SNCF, postal service La Poste and France Télévisions. One notable exception is the country’s autoroutes, which are run by private companies, although the government sets limits on toll charges. 

Nuclear 

France is less exposed to energy shocks than some other European countries because of its nuclear sector.

It is unusual among European nations in the size of its nuclear industry – around 70 percent of electricity comes from its own domestic nuclear power plants, although during the heatwave several plants have had to lower output as rivers have become too hot to effectively cool the reactors. There are also ongoing technical issues that have seen some of the older plants shut down or forced to lower output.

READ ALSO Why is France so obsessed with nuclear?

France is usually a net exporter of electricity, but at peak times it has to import electricity, usually via the high-priced international spot market.

It does, however, import its gas, mostly via pipeline – in 2020 its biggest supplier was Norway, followed by Russia.

The French government has launched a sobriété energetique (energy sobriety) plan to cut its total energy consumption by 10 percent this year, which it hopes will allow it to get through the winter without Russian gas. 

Riots

Even before the recent €65 billion aid package, the French government was taking a pro-active role in helping people deal with rising prices – from the price shield to fuel rebates for drivers, €100 grants for low-income households and financial aid for industries such as agriculture and logistics so they could avoid passing prices on the consumers.

Cynics say this happened for two reasons – because there were elections in April and June and because the French would riot if their utility bills suddenly doubled.

There’s a kernel of truth in both – cost of living became a major issue in the April presidential elections and one that far-right leader Marine Le Pen very much made her own from early in the campaign, leaving Emmanuel Macron slightly on the back foot, although in truth his government had already introduced several measures to ease the burden on ordinary voters.

It’s also true that the French have a robust approach to holding their government to account, and high living costs have previously inspired noisy and sometime violent protests – the ‘yellow vest’ movement of 2018 and 19 began as a protest over living costs.

But it’s also true that the French State is generally quite involved in people’s everyday lives – as evidenced by those monthly gas and electricity price rates – and taking a laissez-faire approach such as that seen in the UK would be unusual for any French government, even outside of election season.

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