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French politics

Economy and defence ministers to remain under new PM Castex, new faces at interior and culture

France's new Prime Minister Jean Castex during a trip to a police station in La Courneuve, a northern Paris suburb, on July 5, 2020, during one of his first official visits following his appointment as head of government on July 3.
France's new Prime Minister Jean Castex during a trip to a police station in La Courneuve, a northern Paris suburb, on July 5, 2020, during one of his first official visits following his appointment as head of government on July 3. © Thomas Coex, AFP.

The Élysée Palace announced the makeup of the new government under Prime Minister Jean Castex on Monday, tasked with helping the economy brave its worst crisis since World War II and inject fresh momentum into the presidency of Emmanuel Macron.

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Some of the top posts will remain unchanged, with Bruno Le Maire remaining as economy minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian as foreign minister and Olivier Véran as health minister after he became a household name during his handling of the coronavirus crisis. Jean-Michel Blanquer will also stay in his post as education minister while Florence Parly will remain as minister of defence.

Criminal lawyer Eric Dupond-Moretti, who has gained fame for his record of winning acquittals, will replace Nicole Belloubet at the justice ministry while Roselyne Bachelot was named culture minister. 

Barbara Pompili, 45, a former member of France's green party, takes over as environment minister from Elisabeth Borne, who will now serve as labour minister. Pompili will face the uphill task of convincing voters that Macron is serious about the environment after the Europe Ecology-The Greens (EELV), her former party, emerged as the main winners in municipal elections last month that also saw Macron's party lose ground.

Gérald Darmanin, 37, will replace Christophe Castaner in the interior minister post, a particularly challenging portfolio amid spiraling allegations of racism and violence among the police. Darmanin’s promotion comes despite allegations that he raped a woman in 2009 after she sought his help in having a criminal record expunged. Darmanin has denied the claims and the charges were dismissed in 2018, but earlier this year appeals judges in Paris ordered that the investigation be reopened.

Olivier Dussopt will move into Darmanin's former position as minister of public accounts while Eilsabeth Moreno will take over from Marlène Schiappa as gender equality minister.

Government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye will also be relinquishing her position, to be replaced by Gabriel Attal.

A 'new path'

New Prime Minister Jean Castex, a senior bureaucrat and provincial mayor not well known before his appointment to head the government, has said he is seeking to move quickly and decisively to convince sceptics that he was the right choice for the job.

The 55-year-old was chosen by Macron to replace the popular Edouard Philippe as the president seeks a fresh start for the final two years of his mandate ahead of 2022 presidential elections.

France's economy has been battered into a historic recession by the coronavirus crisis while Macron's Republic on the Move (LREM) party is reeling from its drubbing in local elections late last month.

Macron had announced an impending government reshuffle on Friday.

>> Macron replaces popular PM with low-profile figure after ‘rivalry over who leads

Macron wrote on Twitter Sunday that a "new path" was needed, listing the new government's priorities as "reviving the economy, continuing an overhaul of our social protection and the environment, re-establishing a fair republican order and defending European sovereignty".

The failure of LREM – founded in the run-up to Macron's presidential bid in 2017 – in the June 28 local elections again showed its lack of a grassroots base.

Analysts have said that by appointing a low-profile figure in place of Philippe – whose popularity was outstripping Macron's in polls – the president wants to tighten his grip on the reins of government ahead of 2022.

Castex, who drew up the plan for France to come out of its coronavirus lockdown, was himself once a member of the centre-right Les Republicains, as was Philippe.

Philippe has returned, for now, to the relative peace of his old job as mayor of the Normandy port of Le Havre. But opinion remains divided over whether he will quietly fade into the background or may one day pose a political challenge to Macron. 

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

 

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