New French government to launch post-Covid agenda for Macron

Prime Minister Jean Castex retains foreign policy expertise as France emerges from coronavirus lockdown

French President Emmanuel Macron (right) shakes hands with Jean Castex (left) in 2019. EPA
French President Emmanuel Macron (right) shakes hands with Jean Castex (left) in 2019. EPA

The new French Prime Minister, Jean Castex, announced a Cabinet reshuffle on Monday to relaunch President Emmanuel Macron’s government agenda.

Jean Yves Le Drian kept his role as Foreign Minister, Bruno Le Maire stays as Finance Minister and Florence Parly held on to the Defence portfolio.

Green politician Barbara Pompili was announced as the minister for driving ecological change, while Roselyne Bachelot was named Culture Minister.

Mr Castex, a relative unknown in French politics, was appointed by Mr Macron to tackle a growing list of domestic problems as the country emerges from the worst of the coronavirus crisis.

He faces mounting obstacles as France looks to curb the economic fallout from the pandemic and restart thorny talks with powerful unions on pension reform.

After meetings in the French Senate and National Assembly on Monday, Mr Castex was given 20 new ministers in an announcement from the Elysee Palace.

Changes in the ranks of junior ministers is to be announced before a Cabinet meeting on July 14.

Jean Castex, France’s new prime minister, pauses during a handover ceremony at the Hotel de Matignon, the official residence of the French prime minister, in Paris, France, Bloomberg
Jean Castex, France’s new prime minister, pauses during a handover ceremony at the Hotel de Matignon, the official residence of the French prime minister, in Paris, France, Bloomberg

The announcement of the new government, Mr Macron’s first since 2017, was brought on by the resignation of Edouard Philippe, his prime minister of three years.

The French president said on social media that with this government he hopes to forge a new path in the last two years of this term and “adapt to the international upheavals and crises”.

But Mr Philippe’s departure was widely interpreted as a sign that the former prime minister had started to overshadow his boss.

Some are predicting he will emerge as a key centre-right challenger to Mr Macron in the 2022 presidential election.

Mr Castex is regarded as a more conciliatory figure with stronger ties to Le Republique en Marche, the centrist political movement founded by Mr Macron in 2016.

While considerable shifts are expected in domestic policy, France’s foreign policy, which has been guided by Mr Le Drian since 2017, is expected to remain consistent.

France has become increasingly close with the UAE, particularly on regional issues, in recent years.

The two countries have condemned Turkish overtures in the eastern Mediterranean and in Libya in recent weeks, with Paris leading a campaign for sanctions against Ankara at the EU.

Municipal elections in France at the end of June, which delivered significant wins for the country’s Green party and its Socialist backers, were considered a blow to Mr Macron.

Green politicians have demanded that environment issues are brought front in the reshuffle with efforts to reduce the carbon economy expected to dominate the recovery from the coronavirus lockdown.

Mr Macron tweeted that the platform on which he stood in 2017, promising to modernise France and free up business, remains central to his politics.

But he said the country “must adapt to the international upheavals and crises we are experiencing. A new path must be forged".

First among the priorities Mr Macron listed for the coming months was to help the French economy to recover from the pandemic.

Updated: July 7, 2020 03:14 AM

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