Macron reshuffles government, names new interior minister

French President Emmanuel Macron reshuffled his Cabinet on Tuesday, appointing new interior, agriculture and culture ministers after a weeks-long search for new talent to try revive his government’s flagging fortunes.

Two weeks after political veteran Gerard Collomb resigned unexpectedly as interior minister, Macron appointed the ultra-loyal head of his Republic on the Move party, Christophe Castaner, to replace him.

The centrist also fired his agriculture and culture ministers, seen as weak links in his cabinet, which is a complicated blend of experts and more experienced politicians, from the left and right.

Collomb’s departure on October 2 was a blow to Macron and coincided with a slump in the president’s popularity after a summer overshadowed by a scandal involving a close aide, several verbal gaffes and disappointing economic data.

His resignation came hot on the heels of that of popular environment minister Nicolas Hulot in August, creating a sense of disarray in the reformist cabinet.

Macron’s delay in carrying out the reshuffle, caused in part by his difficulty in convincing big names to join his team, has added to the sense of a loss in momentum after a fast-paced first year in office, analysts say.

In Macron’s shadow

The pro-business 40-year-old leader will hope the reshaped executive team — which keeps the prime minister, foreign and economy ministers in place — will open a new chapter after a torrid few months.

Macron’s polling numbers have slumped to their lowest level since his electoral victory in May 2017, with surveys showing that only around 30 percent of French voters have a positive view of his presidency.

Christophe Castaner, a 52-year-old former Socialist MP, had been widely tipped for the role to replace Collomb, who is returning to his home town of Lyon to serve as mayor.

A confident performer in the media and with family roots outside the Parisian political elite, Castaner is a central figure in Macron’s inner circle but has little experience of national policing or security issues.

The current head of France’s domestic intelligence agency, Laurent Nunez, was named as his understudy at the interior ministry.

Didier Guillaume, a former Socialist, was named agriculture minister, replacing Stephane Travert, and Franck Riester, a former centre-right Republicans lawmaker takes over from publisher Francoise Nyssen in culture.

Macron also named a new minister for relations with local government, with Jacqueline Gourault taking over the tricky portfolio at a time of budget cuts that have caused deep discontent among rural mayors.

Former investment banker Macron shook up the staid world of French politics in 2016 by founding his own pro-business, pro-EU grassroots party, which he presented as neither of the left nor the right.

Analysts say many of Macron’s ministers have struggled to emerge from the shadow of the president who has faced criticism for his top-down and highly centralised style of governing.

The centrist suffered the first major scandal of his presidency in July when footage emerged of one of his security aides hitting a protester while apparently posing as a policeman.

A slowing economy and concerns about spending power in France, coupled with a series of verbal gaffes that have given ammunition to his opponents, have also served to undermine his popularity.

© Agence France-Presse

Adam Plowright
Adam Plowright works from Paris. Author of The French Exception, the first English-language biography of @EmmanuelMacron. France correspondent for @AFP. Formerly in Delhi, Brussels, London. Adam Plowright has over 5812 followers on Twitter.
Claire Byrne
Clare Byrne
Claire Byrne is an Irish journalist and television presenter who presents Claire Byrne Live. She is best known for presenting The Daily Show from September 2010 to March 2012. In 2013, Byrne became an anchor on RTÉ's flagship current affairs programme Prime Time.
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