4 takeaways on Emmanuel Macron’s first cabinet – POLITICO.eu
PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday appointed his first cabinet, two days after choosing a prime minister from the conservative Républicains party, Édouard Philippe.
The 22-member cabinet (Philippe included) is made up of 11 men and 11 women, and includes representatives from all political stripes apart from the far-right National Front.
Most of the new ministers’ names had been widely mentioned in the rumor mill over the last few days — although sometimes in connection with other portfolios.
Here are four takeaways from Macron’s first government.
1. Surprise in the surprise: the Macron mix
With its emphasis on strict gender balance and political renewal, the cabinet is in line with what the new president had promised during his campaign. It includes 16 full ministers, two associate and four junior ministers. Women make up half the list and are in charge, as Macron promised, of important portfolios. For example, MEP Sylvie Goulard takes over as defense minister. The health, labor, culture, higher education and agriculture ministries will also be headed by women.
With its emphasis on strict gender balance and political renewal, the cabinet is in line with what the new president had promised during his campaign.
The list also fits the bill in terms of the number of political newcomers — half of the cabinet are new to politics and most have never held elected office before. One such newcomer is Françoise Nyssen, head of highbrow publisher Actes Sud, founded by her father. The new ministers’ professional backgrounds are also mixed. The cabinet is not composed mainly of former civil servants, unlike most of its predecessors.
The cabinet is also politically diverse, as Macron wanted. It counts only two members of François Hollande’s outgoing government: Jean-Yves Le Drian, who will become European and foreign affairs minister, and Annick Girardin, the new minister for overseas territories. They will be joined by two Socialist MPs at odds with their party who were among the first supporters of Macron — Richard Ferrand as minister for regions and Christophe Castaner as junior minister and government spokesman. Both were largely unknown before they joined Macron’s campaign. The cabinet will include only two former Socialist Party bigwigs: Le Drian and long-time Lyon mayor Gérard Collomb, 69, who becomes interior minister.
Macron also managed to spring a surprise not only by shuffling the cards of traditional French politics but also by defying the expectations of the last few days. The biggest surprise is that Goulard and Le Drian have each ended up in jobs that the other was expected to get. Le Drian, probably the only widely-respected minister in the last government, had schooled Macron in the finer points of security and defense policy and was seen as staying on in his job. As for Goulard, her long-standing expertise in European affairs seemed to make her a sure bet for the foreign ministry.
Another surprise is that Macron has chosen two prized conservative catches to take over economic ministries. Bruno Le Maire, who mounted an unsuccessful bid last year for the presidential nomination of the Républicains party, will become economy minister. And Gérald Darmanin, the 34-year-old mayor of the northern city of Tourcoing, will take charge of “public accounts” – i.e. become budget minister. The choice seems a deliberate ploy to signal to both the French people and the rest of Europe that Macron is serious about fiscal restraint — and a message to the rest of the Républicains party that the defectors won’t be reduced to token roles if they rally around the new president.
Under the Macron doctrine, old parties must not just be beaten, they must be destroyed. The French president doesn’t have to do much to finish off the Socialist Party – it’s in meltdown after its candidate received 6 percent of the vote in the presidential election’s first round. But he still has to dispatch the Républicains, who are likely to emerge as the main opposition in next month’s parliamentary election. Poaching two important members from that end of the spectrum is a major coup. Le Maire, at 48, was a European affairs minister, then agriculture minister during Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency. And Darmanin is a representative of the younger generation of conservative politicians eager to renew the party’s leaders and ideology.
2. Same old, new old
Macron’s oft-reiterated promise to end French politics’ “old way of doing things” is obviously not incompatible with some good old wheeling-and-dealing or media-friendly moves. At least the new president avoided filling his first cabinet with former ministers of Jacques Chirac, France’s conservative president from 1995 to 2007, as rumor had suggested he would in the last few days. But he has still put François Bayrou, the 65-year old centrist leader and three-time unsuccessful presidential candidate, at the head of the justice ministry.
That at least will end a few days of testy exchanges with Bayrou on endorsing joint candidates in a few dozen electoral districts for the parliamentary election. As if to confirm that peace has been restored, Bayrou’s longtime close associate Marielle de Sarnez, 66, will end up as an associate European affairs minister, under Le Drian. Meanwhile, Bayrou will have to work hard to shake off a well-established reputation as a dilettante. He didn’t make a strong impression as an agent of change during his four-year stint as education minister in conservative governments more than 20 years ago.
Macron’s choice of well-known celebrities to join his cabinet isn’t that new either. Nicolas Hulot, a former TV star who became an environmental crusader, was nearly appointed environment minister by Sarkozy and Hollande — but has finally got the job under Macron. That’s roughly the equivalent of appointing an Olympic gold medalist as sports minister — which François Mitterrand, Chirac and Sarkozy all did in their time, and it’s something Macron himself is doing now by giving that portfolio to former fencing champion Laura Flessel.
The Hulot appointment also helps give Macron the patina of an environment-friendly politician that he seemed to lack in the campaign. It will counter-balance his prime minister’s stint as an executive at Areva, the nuclear plant builder. And it will help garner a few precious green votes in the June parliamentary election.
3. Compromise on politics, not policy
This is the first time in the history of modern French institutions that a president has chosen a prime minister from the opposite camp without being forced to do so by voters. For now, Macron is hoping that his République En Marche (REM) movement wins full control of parliament in June. If it doesn’t, the fallback scenario is that he would then be able to govern in a coalition with a splinter group from the Républicains — made up of the center-right MPs who haven’t felt comfortable with the party’s rightward shift.
But Macron has reiterated since his election that he would govern on his platform, all of his platform, and nothing but his platform. All his ministers and parliamentary candidates have to pledge that they will support the reforms Macron advocated, as outlined in his detailed program. When Bayrou’s centrist party decided to support Macron, all it got was a promise that Macron would push a law on “moralizing French politics” — which was in line with his own campaign platform anyway.
Macron has reiterated since his election that he would govern on his platform, all of his platform, and nothing but his platform.
Macron has made it clear that he won’t tolerate the kind of internal rebellions that beset his Socialist predecessor Hollande in the last two years. Even the Républicains came on board on the condition, as Philippe said in his first TV interview on Monday, that they fully implement the president’s platform — not in an amended version to make it closer to the tastes of Républicains, but in its original form. No compromise there.
4. En Marche toward the next election
The cabinet appointed Wednesday will be considered a transition team until the results of the parliamentary election on June 18. It cannot pass significant reforms that would require legislative approval, so it will be reduced to governing by campaigning and communicating.
First on the agenda, Macron has hinted, will be the law on moralizing politics. Its main point seems to be to prohibit the type of behavior that sank conservative presidential candidate François Fillon earlier this year: MPs won’t be allowed either to employ family members or to hold consultant jobs on the side. Making a big statement on this will allow Macron to remind voters yet again of the problems the Républicains faced in the last election campaign — which will come handy in the current one.
Ministers — including their boss, Prime Minister Philippe — are now expected to do their jobs and campaign for REM candidates in the next four weeks. Some of them are running for parliamentary seats, some are not. If elected, ministers will then have to choose whether to serve in parliament or in the cabinet — two incompatible functions under the French constitution. If they opt for remaining at Macron’s side, a lesser-known deputy who ran alongside them would then sit in the National Assembly.
That, of course, would very much look like old-style French politics. But that small encroachment on principles may be the price to pay for a parliamentary majority.
A question to watch now is how Macron’s party will treat the Républicains officials who either have expressed a willingness to work with him or might be tempted to do so after the election. One name widely talked about in recent days was missing from the cabinet list: Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, another unsuccessful candidate for the Républicains presidential nomination who is running for a parliamentary seat as a center-right candidate, and has signed a petition with about 40 other Républicains officials who say they are ready to “seize [Macron’s] extended hand.”
The French president’s best bet, for now, may be to leave a few friendly conservatives outside his camp and let them run under their party’s banner — if only to avoid the Républicains running another candidate against them. There will be ample time, after the election, to make his tent even bigger.
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