President Emmanuel Macron of France has replaced his under-fire interior minister as part of a cabinet reshuffle aimed at relaunching his presidency ahead of the 2022 elections.
Mr Macron promoted a young lieutenant, Gérald Darmanin, into the interior ministry in place of Christopher Castaner, who was criticised for his handling of the anti-government gilets jaunes protests last year. More recently, the police ranks also lost faith in Mr Castaner, whom they felt was not doing enough to protect them from criticism by Black Lives Matters protesters.
The president kept Bruno Le Maire in his job as finance minister, entrusting him with managing the economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic that has killed almost 30,000 people in France and triggered a deep recession. With the economic recovery central to his re-election hopes, Mr Macron has beefed up the finance, labour and environment ministries.
The health, foreign and defence ministers were also kept in office but he replaced his environment minister — an important post heading into 2022 because Mr Macron is being challenged by a resurgent green movement on the left of French politics. Barbara Pompili, a former member of the French green party and early convert to Mr Macron’s party, was named to the post.
The outgoing minister for the environment, Elisabeth Borne, was appointed to the labour ministry, replacing Muriel Penicaud, who was a transplant from the private sector and former executive at Danone.
Eric Dupond-Moretti, a well-known criminal lawyer who has defended accused terrorists and the rogue trader Jérôme Kerviel, was appointed to the justice ministry.
“This is less a reshuffle than a game of musical chairs,” said Virginie Martin, a political analyst at Kedge Business School. “There are only three really new faces . . . and there are now half a dozen in the government who are close to [former president for the centre-right Nicolas] Sarkozy.”
“Those that like Macron’s turn to the right will be very happy with this new government, but the people on the left who voted for Macron in the last election will be very disappointed,” she said.
Mr Macron had already appointed his new prime minister, promoting Jean Castex as the replacement for the outgoing and popular Edouard Philippe last week.
The appointment of another centre-right but lower-profile prime minister has signalled that Mr Macron wants to chart a path out of the Covid-19 crisis himself but does not intend any big policy U-turns.
The reshuffle also comes weeks after Mr Macron’s ruling La République en Marche party was beaten by the traditional parties of left and right and by the greens in local elections.
The president is seen by many analysts as having deliberately moved to the right during his tenure in an effort to capture votes.
This is Mr Macron’s second big reshuffle since his election as president in 2017 — in October 2018 his hand was forced after three ministerial resignations in as many months.
Mr Macron has already weathered multiple strikes against often contentious economic reforms, including the populist gilets jaunes protests, but he intends to press on with the reform of the pension system, despite threats of more unrest from trade unions in response.
Before the coronavirus pandemic held up the reform, the plans had triggered public sector transport strikes and trade union protests.
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