French President Emmanuel Macron has named his former spokesperson Gabriel Attal as the country’s next Prime Minister in a major cabinet reshuffle. At just 34, Attal becomes the youngest French premier in modern history and the first openly gay leader to hold the post.
Cabinet Resigns Amid Immigration Backlash
The shakeup comes after Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne tendered her resignation earlier this week following controversy over the government’s immigration policies.
Borne faced heavy criticism from both the left and right wings of parliament after proposing to force asylum seekers to take language classes as part of the process to gain residency rights. The controversial bill led to divisions within Macron’s centrist alliance and prompted Borne to step down after just 6 months in office.
Macron’s decision signals an attempt to reenergize his presidency halfway into his second five-year term as he seeks to counter challenges from both the far right and left.
Fast Rise for Attal
Attal has risen quickly through the ranks after first becoming a government spokesman under Prime Minister Edouard Philippe in 2018. Known as an articulate defender of Macron’s policies, Attal was promoted to Minister Delegate for Public Accounts in 2020 before serving as Macron’s main spokesperson during his successful reelection campaign last year.
Close allies have described Attal as “Macron compatible” and he could help advance the president’s reform agenda amid a fragile political situation.
His appointment makes him France’s first-ever prime minister from an openly LGBT background. He also becomes the country’s youngest head of government since Laurent Fabius who served briefly aged 37 in 1984.
Rocky Road Ahead
However, Attal faces a tough challenge to implement Macron’s promised “new method” of governance based more on dialogue and compromise after the president lost his absolute majority in legislative elections last June.
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The left-wing Nupes alliance and Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally together control nearly as many seats as Macron’s centrists in the National Assembly.
As such, Macron and Attal will need to draw more on opposition support to pass legislation amid threats of political gridlock. The president could also resort to bypassing parliament through executive orders and constitutional tweaks if faced continued resistance.
Initial areas of focus expected for Attal include:
- Pushing through Macron’s contested pension reforms to raise the retirement age from 62 to 65
- Championing France’s role within the EU amid tensions over fiscal rules
- Tackling the cost-of-living crisis and boosting green investment
However, the new prime minister ruled out any shift to the right in an effort to co-opt National Rally voters after Le Pen made large gains in last year’s presidential and parliamentary elections.
Appointments Aim to Bridge Left-Right Divide
Along with Attal’s history-making nomination, Macron’s new diverse cabinet aims to build bridges across France’s fractured political landscape.
The revamped team includes ministers from both the right and left – although no members of the Nupes coalition were among the appointments.
In a further overture to ecologists, outspoken Green party MP and animal rights activist Caroline Janvier was named Agriculture Minister. Janvier has been an ardent opponent of bullfighting and reportedly convinced Brigitte Macron, the French first lady, to speak out against the traditional blood sport.
Meanwhile, economist Hedi Larbi was handed the crucial Finance Minister post to spearhead Macron’s plan for boosting jobs amid forecasts of slowing growth this year. Former Health Minister Olivier Véran returns to government as Transport Minister to advance Macron’s pledge to invest heavily in green infrastructure.
Battle Lines Drawn for 2027
As Macron prepares to formally hand power to his newly appointed premier at the Élysée Palace Wednesday, Attal’s tricky task will be turning a disparate cabinet and precarious parliament numbers into an effective springboard towards 2027.
Failure to make progress on Macron’s agenda of economic, ecological and institutional reforms could further bolster his hard-left and hard-right challengers when France next goes to the polls.
Le Pen has already seized on Attal’s appointment to attack Macron’s “continuity government” while leftist leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon decried the lack of olive branches towards his Nupes alliance.
With his loyal protégé now installed at Matignon – the Paris residence of French prime ministers – and holding the second most important office in the land, Macron appears to be betting that Attal can help re-energize his flagging presidency.
Much will depend on the new PM’s ability to charm both sides of France’s National Assembly to push through key reforms. But the 34-year old Attal has shown precocious political talent in his short career and Macron will be hoping his young star can rise to the monumental challenge ahead.
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