Macron Adjusts His Cabinet, Seeking a Fresh Start


PARIS — President Emmanuel Macron of France lightly shuffled his cabinet on Monday in a bid to jump start his second term, weeks after elections that significantly weakened his parliamentary majority and bolstered his political opponents.

Mr. Macron, who has been occupied by international summits and diplomatic efforts over the war in Ukraine, and who has not yet charted a strong domestic course for his second term, is now seeking a fresh start after his alliance of centrist parties lost its absolute majority last month in the National Assembly, France’s lower house of Parliament.

After those elections, Mr. Macron had asked Élisabeth Borne, the prime minister, to consult with parliamentary groups to form “a new government of action” that could include representatives from across the political landscape, and Ms. Borne spent much of the past week meeting with party leaders.

But the new appointments on Monday were not as sweeping as that might have suggested, and the shuffle contained no major surprises, meaning that the new government will probably not make it easier for Mr. Macron to get his bills passed in France’s fragmented lower house.

Mr. Macron, speaking to his newly appointed ministers on Monday for his cabinet’s first meeting, said he wanted a government of “ambition,” capable of building “challenging compromises.”

“Our country needs reforms, transformations,” Mr. Macron said, as he blamed mainstream opposition parties for their “unwillingness” to take part in his government.

Ms. Borne and many heavyweights who were appointed in May after Mr. Macron’s re-election remained in place, including Bruno Le Maire, who has been in charge of the economy since Mr. Macron was first elected in 2017; Pap Ndiaye, an academic of Senegalese and French descent who is education minister; and Catherine Colonna and Sébastien Lecornu, the ministers for foreign affairs and defense.

Olivier Véran, who in May had been nominated minister in charge of relations with Parliament, was appointed government spokesman on Monday. Mr. Véran, a neurologist by training, was health minister at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in Mr. Macron’s first term and was the face for much of the government’s response, making him one of the administration’s most recognizable figures.

Mr. Véran, speaking to reporters before taking up his post on Monday, said that “more than ever, the political context calls for transparency, for dialogue, for renewal” to address the “feeling of disconnection” between French people and their politicians.

“Each day, on each bill, we will have to constantly seek majorities, not just with lawmakers with also with a majority of the French,” Mr. Véran said.

Mr. Macron had vowed ahead of June’s parliamentary elections that any ministers who were running for a seat would have to resign if they lost. Three were in that situation, including Brigitte Bourguignon, the health minister, who was replaced Monday by François Braun, an emergency doctor and the head of an umbrella organization of France’s emergency departments. Mr. Braun had recently been assigned by the government to find solutions to summer staff shortages that have plagued French hospitals.

The new appointments hinted at Mr. Macron’s need to bolster support from his allied centrist parties: the MoDem, a longtime partner of Mr. Macron, and Horizons, a group created by Édouard Philippe, his former prime minister. Six cabinet positions were filled by members of those parties on Monday, up from two previously.

But Mr. Macron did not poach any key targets from left or right-wing parties, as he had several times in the past, and he even brought back officials who had been in his cabinet in his first term, leading opponents to suggest that Mr. Macron had a very shallow bench from which to choose.

Credit…Ludovic Marin/Agence France-Presse, via Pool/Afp Via Getty Images

Pierre-Henri Dumont, the deputy secretary general for Les Républicains, Mr. Macron’s right-wing opposition, told the BFMTV news channel on Monday that the new government “looks more like the end of a reign than the start of a new term.”

“No one major was poached, there are no big names, even though we were promised a government of national unity,” Mr. Dumont said.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally party — which won a record number of seats in Parliament last month — said on Twitter that Mr. Macron had “once again ignored the verdict of the ballot box and the French people’s wish for a new policy.”

Mr. Macron declined to reappoint Damien Abad, the minister for solidarity and for disabled people, who has faced a growing number of sexual assault and rape allegations since his nomination in May.

At least three different women have made accusations against Mr. Abad, who has strenuously denied wrongdoing, and the Paris prosecutor’s office opened an investigation targeting him last week, amid a growing reckoning over sexism and sexual abuse by French political figures.

Mr. Abad said at a news conference on Monday that faced with “vile aspersions,” it was preferable for him to step down “so that I may defend myself without hampering the government’s action.”

Laurence Boone, the chief economist at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, is the new junior minister in charge of European affairs, replacing Clément Beaune, a key ally of Mr. Macron, who will become the minister in charge of transportation.

The cabinet reshuffle came ahead of a general policy speech that Ms. Borne is expected to give before the lower house on Wednesday.

The speech is an important tradition that gives prime ministers an opportunity to set out the new government’s policies and priorities, but it is not automatically followed by a confidence vote. Prime ministers have usually sought one anyway to shore up support and give their cabinet a strong mandate, but Ms. Borne wwill not do so.

“We are not certain that the conditions for this confidence would have been met,” Mr. Véran said a post-cabinet meeting news conference. Instead, he said, the government would seek support from lawmakers “bill by bill.”

France Unbowed, the main left-wing opposition party in the National Assembly, has already said it would call for a no-confidence vote against Ms. Borne to try to force her to step down. But such a vote can only succeed if the left, the far-right and the mainstream conservatives vote together, which is far from certain.

One of the new government’s first orders of business will be a bill that aims to help the French keep up with inflation by increasing several welfare benefits, capping rising rents, and creating subsidies for poorer households to buy essential food products.

Inflation in the eurozone rose to a record 8.6 percent last week, as the fallout of the war in Ukraine and the economic conflict it has set off between Russia and Western Europe continued to drive up energy prices — although France’s inflation rate, at 6.5 percent, is comparatively lower than in other European countries.

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