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Gabriel Attal becomes France’s youngest and first openly gay premier

In World
January 09, 2024

President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday announced his choice of Gabriel Attal, 34, to serve as France’s youngest-ever prime minister in a bid to give new momentum to his presidency following a year of protests and criticism from both the left and the right.  

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“The president of the republic appointed Mr. Gabriel Attal prime minister and tasked him with forming a government,” read a presidential statement issued on Tuesday.

Gabriel Attal rose to prominence as the government spokesman and education minister. He is France’s first openly gay prime minister.

A wider cabinet reshuffle is expected this week as Macron seeks to sharpen his team for the final three years of his presidency. 

Attal’s predecessor Élisabeth Borne resigned on Monday following recent political turmoil over an immigration law that critics said made too many concessions to the far right. Among other measures, it broadened the government’s ability to deport foreigners. 

The government overhaul comes ahead of the Olympic Games in Paris and European parliament elections this summer, where Macron’s centrist forces risk defeat at the hands of the far-right under Marine Le Pen.

Confirming the appointment on X, Macron said he wanted the new prime minister to bring back the spirit of bold change from when he first won office on a wave of hope for radical reform in 2017.  

“I know I can count on your energy and your commitment,” said Macron, adding that the new premier would act in line with the spirit of “excellence and audacity” of 2017. 

In his first speech as prime minister on the steps of the Élysée presidential palace on Tuesday, Attal said the three priorities of his premiership would be employment, opening up the economy to simplify procedures for businesses and focusing on the youth.

Standing besides Attal, Borne, in her handover speech, extended her best wishes to the new prime minister. “As I pass the baton to you, I’m confident you have the determination and energy to lead the team,” she said.

Borne, 62, only the second woman to have served as French prime minister, ended her address on a personal note. “In taking office, I sent a message to all young girls to fulfill their dreams and my career demonstrated that whatever your background everything is possible. I say to all women, hold fast, the future is in your hands,” she said.

Macron – who was France’s youngest-ever president when he came to power  – is set to work with Attal to name the new government in the coming days, though some key ministers are expected to continue in their posts.

The 46-year-old French president has shifted rightward on security and migration issues since rising to power on a pro-business centrist platform in 2017, notably as far-right rival Marine Le Pen and her anti-immigration, anti-Islam National Rally have gained political influence.

Acknowledging his youth, and the fact that he was named prime minister by the youngest Frenchman to become president, Attal said his appointment sent a “clear” signal of the nation’s “project of transformation”. 

‘Fragile as ever’

Commentators see the reshuffle as essential to relaunch Macron’s centrist presidency for its last three years and prevent him becoming a “lame duck” leader after a series of crises.

Since he defeated the far right to win a second term in 2022, Macron has faced protests over unpopular pension reforms, the loss of his overall majority in parliamentary elections and controversy over immigration legislation.

While Macron cannot run again in 2027 presidential elections, relaunching his government is seen as crucial to help prevent Le Pen becoming president.

The conservative daily Le Figaro said Borne was leaving a political situation “that remains as fragile as ever”.

“Changing a face at the top doesn’t change the overall picture,” the newspaper said, adding Borne’s successor was facing “an overwhelming pile of political emergencies” including the task to unite a fragmented nation.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

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