Macron’s extraordinarily politically heteroclite family

Image credit: Claude Truong-Ngoc

France’s newly elected president 39-year-old centrist Emmanuel Macron has officially chosen an administration, unveiled last Wednesday (17 May 2017). 17 Ministers and eight Secretaries of State were appointed: a seemingly heteroclite group of figures from parties on the left, right, and centre, reflecting Macron’s own values coherently, while allowing room for flexibility.

His prime minister, Edouard Philippe, is a 46-year-old former member of the centre-right party ‘Les Républicains’, who decided to rally Macron’s movement ‘En Marche’ following centre-right Les Républicains candidate member François Fillon’s refusal to resign after he was charged with embezzlement during the presidential campaign. Though Philippe chose to join Les Républicains, he used to be a member of the Socialist Party and contributed to the creation of the first centre-right party (i.e ‘Union pour un Mouvement Populaire’: UMP) with moderate right-wing mayor of Bordeaux and former candidate for Les Républicains primaries Alain Juppé. However, Philippe briefly joined the Socialist party during his studies at Sciences Po in Paris as he was impressed by Michel Rocard – François Mitterrand’s prime minister from 1988 to 1991, a pro-business figure and Macron’s political mentor – but quickly switched side after realising 'liberté' was more important to him than 'égalité'.

Philippe thus is a moderate right-wing prime minister with socialist sympathies, but also a Europhile who speaks good German. Impatience and ambition, sometimes verging on arrogance, are two of his striking traits, and two he shares with President Macron. Both men enjoyed an outstanding academic trajectory. Like the president, Philippe graduated from ENA, the elite school that grooms France’s top civil servants, becoming a lawyer at the Conseil d’Etat, France’s supreme court. However, Philippe also worked in the private sector, for the nuclear giant Areva, between 2007 and 2010 – a worrying factor for ecologists considering that he voted, as a deputy, against several laws directed towards the protection of the environment. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that Edouard Philippe embodies Macron’s centrist, modern and liberal ideology.

Bruno Le Maire, 48, a former agriculture minister and secretary of state for Europe under Sarkozy, was named economy minister, a role which Macron held himself under former president François Hollande. He will be supported in his new role by 34-year-old Gerald Darmanin, a former Sarkozy ally, who will be in charge of public finance. Other figures from the left and centre took senior roles, including Jean-Yves Le Drian, a leading Socialist who was defence minister in the last government under François Hollande. He was appointed foreign minister – one of two figures from Hollande’s mandate to now serve under Macron’s presidency. Macron also carried out his promise of appointing the same number of women as men. However, only one of the government’s top five roles – defence – went to a woman, Sylvie Goulard.

Goulard is a European lawmaker and member of the European parliament in Brussels, having acted as adviser to former European Commission president Romano Prodi. She was Macron’s top European adviser during the presidential campaign, masterminding his meetings with the German chancellor Angela Merkel. Her appointment to the defence ministry sent a message about closer European defence. Goulard, who is one of several fluent English and German speakers in government, will be key for British emphasis on continuing defence ties with France after Brexit. One of Macron’s biggest coups was the appointment of the environmentalist and former TV personality, Nicolas Hulot, to head a broad new environment ministry – the second most important position in government.

Macron also appointed a series of people who had never been involved in party politics. These included Agnès Buzyn, the doctor and former health authority chief, as health and solidarity minister. Françoise Nyssen, the head of a French publishing house, was appointed culture minister. Olympic fencing champion Laura Flessel, from the French island and department of Guadeloupe, was named sports minister.

Macron’s new government appears to be a direct challenge to traditional established political parties and remains in the French president’s will to smash the left-right divide. It now falls to Mr Philippe to lead the fight for seats in parliamentary elections next month for the new president’s electorally untested movement, La République En Marche. These elections will be key to Macron’s capacity to carry out reforms. By drawing support from across the political spectrum, the young president indeed hopes to secure a working majority – this will enable him to underpin his ambitions to reform and revive a France that has been blighted by political and economic malaise. If he succeeds, the hope is that France will be able to work together again with Germany and bring change to the continent.

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