Who is Elisabeth Borne, France’s new prime minister?

The engineering graduate served in three different offices during President Macron's first term

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne waves after being sworn in as Jean Castex's successor. Reuters
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Elisabeth Borne has been appointed as France’s new prime minister, becoming the second woman to hold the post.

The former labour minister was sworn in to replace Jean Castex on Tuesday, 30 years after the first woman was appointed to the position.

She was hand-picked by President Emmanuel Macron to deliver his complex policy promises as he begins his second term in office.

Mr Macron and Ms Borne are expected to appoint the full government in the coming days.

Difficult childhood

Ms Borne was born in Paris to a French mother from Normandy and a Jewish father with Russian roots.

Her paternal family reportedly arrived in France in 1939, fleeing the Nazis.

Ms Borne’s father was a member of the French Resistance which fought the Nazi occupation of France.

Her parents opened a pharmaceutical laboratory after the war and ran it together before her father died when she was 11.

She has publicly admitted that the years following his death were “not easy”.

After being appointed as the first female prefect of the western region of Poitou-Charentes, Ms Borne harked back to her family's history as refugees when she signed her first decree of French naturalisation to obtain citizenship. She said her own story symbolised the integration of refugees in France.

The political years

Ms Borne, 61, is divorced with one son.

She holds a degree in engineering and has held a variety of high level positions in politics.

She served under the Socialist presidents Francois Mitterand and François Hollande and oversaw urban planning during a stint at Paris city hall.

She also served as president of the state transport company RATP.

Ms Borne has long been a loyal backer of President Macron and held three key ministerial positions during his first five years in office: labour, transport and environment.

Her work earned her a reputation for pushing through difficult and often unpopular policies.

Ms Borne is seen as a technocrat with a wealth of experience in negotiating with trade unions.

She managed to pass Mr Macron’s sweeping reforms of the state rail company, which prompted the largest strikes France has seen in decades.

Despite serving under Socialist leaders she has never joined the party.

She is the first of Mr Macron’s prime ministers to be a fully signed-up member of his centrist party, known as La Republique en Marche before he recently rebranded it as Renaissance.

In France it is common for presidents to have more than one prime minister during their terms.

Female firebrand

Following her appointment, Ms Borne dedicated it to the young girls of France.

“I dedicate the nomination to all the little girls in France, to tell them ‘follow your dreams’,” she said. “Nothing should stop the fight for women’s place in our society.”

She is considered a workaholic who rarely takes time off from her duties. When she does manage to get away, she enjoys desert walks and once named the so-called Valley of the Moon in Jordan as her greatest walking memory.

Edith Cresson became the first woman to hold the position as French prime minister when she was appointed by former president Mitterrand in 1991.

“It was high time there was another woman,” Ms Cresson, who knows Ms Borne personally, told BFMTV.

“She is a remarkable person, with great experience in the public and private sectors … She's a very good choice because she's a remarkable person, not because she's a woman.”

Ms Cresson noted that it had taken France — which has never had a female head of state — a long time to have another woman prime minister.

“France is very behind — not the French population but the political class,” said Ms Cresson, who was the target of numerous sexist attacks during her time in office.

Looking to the future

One of the key tasks for Ms Borne will be to deliver Mr Macron’s complex policy promises as he heads into his second five-year term in the Elysee Palace. The president, 44, registered a solid victory in the April 24 presidential polls against far-right leader Marine Le Pen, winning 59 per cent of the vote, against his opponent’s 41 per cent.

She will be responsible for leading the president’s unpopular plans to push back the pension age from 62 to either 64 or 65, which are tipped to spark trade union opposition and protests.

She will also oversee Mr Macron’s “green planning” reforms to curb carbon emissions.

The assignments will not be easy, given rising inflation and the war in Ukraine.

After she was announced as the new prime minister, Ms Borne acknowledged “the challenges before us are great” but said she “fully appreciates the responsibility”.

In a tweet, she thanked Mr Macron “for his trust and the honour he gives me by appointing me prime minister”. She also paid tribute to her predecessor, Mr Castex, “for his action over the past two years”.

Mr Macron said he and Ms Borne would work hand in hand to focus on a plethora of key areas such as “ecology, health, education, full employment, democratic revival, Europe and security”.

“Together, with the new government, we will continue to act tirelessly for the French people,” he said, in a message posted on Twitter.

Updated: May 17, 2022, 12:18 PM