Macron eyes cabinet reshuffle after a year of political challenges

French President Emmanuel Macron could choose a new prime minister as soon as Monday, according to his entourage, as he seeks a new look for a widely criticised government. 

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The position of Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has been tenuous ever since an immigration bill pushed by Macron was voted down in parliament last month. It was finally passed with many controversial changes imposed by the centre-right opposition. 

Macron, who is also facing a growing challenge from the far-right National Rally of Marine Le Pen, met with Borne Sunday night.

Read moreMacron accused of doing far-right’s bidding with stricter immigration law

His office said the discussion centred on flooding in northern France and a looming freeze across the country, but observers said they likely discussed a widely-predicted cabinet reshuffle.

Francois Bayrou, a centrist leader whose early endorsement of Macron was key to his initial 2017 election success, told BFM television that “a change is necessary” in the government makeup. 

Under the French system, the president sets general policies, but the prime minister is responsible for day-to-day government management, meaning they often pay the price when an administration runs into turbulence. 

Rival claims 

In 20 months as prime minister, the 62-year-old Borne — France’s second female head of government — has pushed through key reforms on pensions and immigration in some 30 new laws and has overcome previous doubts about her future. 

But Macron has over the past week consulted with key figures including Bayrou, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, and former prime minister Edouard Philippe about reinvigorating the administration.

No final decisions appeared to have been taken before the meeting with Borne however.

A close Macron adviser said the president was “finalising his choices” and “things will move at the start of the week, probably with a new prime minister Monday.” 

Macron is “in a hurry”, added a second advisor. 

Read more‘Contradictions of Macronism’: French government fights to save face after immigration bill debacle

But another associate of the president commented: “Everything is possible, including doing nothing.” That would mean Borne could still keep her job. 

If she is replaced, the two leading candidates are Sebastien Lecornu, the 37-year-old armed forces minister, and Julien Denormandie, the 43-year-old former agriculture minister who has been close to Macron for a decade.

Choosing between the two risks exacerbating tensions within Macron’s movement. Denormandie has been with Macron from the start of his presidential campaign. Lecornu later jumped ship from the centre-right The Republicans party.

Macron’s political party lacks a majority in parliament and is already riven by disagreements over the immigration law, which was greatly hardened as a condition for receiving necessary support from The Republicans. 

‘Moving too quickly? 

Some 200 French intellectuals, actors, and union leaders issued a call Sunday to protest against the law on January 21, saying it represented a “dangerous turn for the Republic.”  

Denormandie almost founded a start-up with Macron in 2014 before becoming his deputy chief of staff when Macron was Economy Minister under President Francois Hollande. Denormandie has been working in the private sector since 2022.

Lecornu joined Macron in 2017, and would follow in the footsteps of two previous prime ministers — Philippe and Jean Castex — who also defected from The Republicans. 

Lecornu has become a close adviser to Macron, who has used his experience in local and regional government. However, one close adviser warned that “we are maybe moving too quick to condemn” Borne.    

(AFP)

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