French political heavyweights to keep top jobs in cabinet reshuffle

President Macron wants stability before election, despite surprise nomination of youngest-ever PM

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, right, with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin. AFP
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France's new Prime Minister, Gabriel Attal, has kept some of the government's top ministers, including those at the interior, finance, defence and justice ministries, French media reported on Thursday.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who oversees security arrangements for this summer's Paris Olympic Games, was the first to announce on Wednesday that he would stay in place.

That came a day after President Emmanuel Macron appointed Mr Attal, 34, France's youngest Prime Minister, in a surprise move because of his relative lack of experience.

A rising star in French politics, Mr Attal is regarded as Mr Macron's political successor.

He replaced Elisabeth Borne, 62, who was weakened after a year of turbulent politics and tough pension and immigration reforms.

Mr Attal is one of France's most popular politicians and cemented his reputation with a ban on Muslim dress in public schools last year during his six-month tenure as Education Minister.

Originally a supporter of the Socialist Party, he shifted to Mr Macron's new centrist movement when it was founded in 2016 and became his party's spokesman in 2018.

But Mr Macron's attempt at giving a fresh face to his latest government seemed to have reached its limits as it became clear that Mr Darmanin and France's longest-serving Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire, would keep their jobs.

Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti and Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu are also expected to stay.

They all have right-wing political backgrounds except for Mr Dupond-Moretti, a lawyer.

French commentators interpreted the continuity as a signal of relative weakness ahead of an expected tough European election in June, BFM TV reported.

Centrist groups close to Mr Macron are struggling in the polls, way behind the far-right, and the president is viewed as needing strong political figures beside him.

Stephane Sejourne, 38, has been named France's Foreign Affairs Minister, succeeding Catherine Colonna.

Mr Sejourne is the head of Mr Macron’s Renaissance party and of the Renew Europe group of liberal, pro-European politicians at the European Parliament.

Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castara keeps her job less than six months before the Paris Olympics, and also gets the education portfolio – a role previously held by Mr Attal.

The Culture Ministry goes to Rachida Dati, a member of conservative party The Republicans. Ms Dati was a justice minister under conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Another rising star in Mr Macron's entourage who has reportedly been appointed to the new cabinet is Secretary of State for Youth Prisca Thevenot, 38, who becomes government spokeswoman, said Radio France and BFM TV.

French governments usually include as many men as women, although men were over-represented in powerful ministries in the latest cabinet.

Mr Attal's office told the media that Emmanuel Moulin, a close ally of Mr Macron's powerful chief of staff Alexis Kohler, would become the prime minister's chief of staff, in a sign that the President may keep a close eye on his premier, as he did with his predecessors.

The reshuffle is likely to intensify the race within Mr Macron's camp to succeed him in the next presidential election in 2027.

Former prime minister Edouard Philippe, Mr Darmanin and Mr Le Maire all seen as possible candidates, alongside the fast-rising Mr Attal.

Updated: January 11, 2024, 8:18 PM