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July 3, 2020

FRANCE: Macron (fully) in charge

BY Antonio Barroso

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( 3 mins)

As expected, President Emmanuel Macron has reshuffled his government following the 28 June local elections. The president’s decision to replace the popular Edouard Philippe with the little known center-right politician Jean Castex as prime minister suggests that Macron wants to be perceived as entirely in control of government policy in the months leading up to the 2022 presidential election. In the longer term, the main political question is whether Philippe will take advantage of his popularity to mount a presidential bid in 2022.

Castex is a member of center-right The Republicans party with a robust technocratic profile. He has held management positions at all levels of government, including as a senior advisor to former President Nicolas Sarkozy. In the last months, he had been tasked with coordinating France’s exit from its Covid-19 lockdown. Nevertheless, he is virtually unknown to the public.

The replacement of Philippe with a figure of a similar but less prominent profile shows Macron’s willingness to exert full control over the policy agenda in the coming months. The last months have seen reports of increasing friction between the presidency and the office of the prime minister, which Macron seems eager to eliminate. To that end, the president has allegedly imposed the appointment of Nicolas Revel as Castex’s chief of staff. Revel was a senior advisor to former President Francois Hollande at the time when Macron also served as a presidential aide.

The composition of the new cabinet is expected to be announced in the coming hours. Although it is not known whether Bruno Le Maire will retain the portfolio of Finance Minister, Macron’s economic policies are unlikely to change regardless of who holds the post. To be sure, the new government will probably push for new initiatives on the health, environment, and social fronts as part of Macron’s plan to fight Covid-19. But Macron will not change his flagship policies. For instance, he wants to salvage the pension reform that had to be put on hold because of Covid-19, signaling that he is might be more flexible on the thorny issue of how to fund the system.

Looking beyond the coming weeks, the main political question is whether Philippe will take advantage of his newly acquired public prominence to run in the 2022 presidential election. A presidential bid by Philippe could create a problem for Macron in the first round of the vote. Opinion polls show that the former PM is particularly popular among the center-right electorate. At the same time, it is unclear whether Philippe would be able to be the leading contender in that part of the political spectrum, given that other prominent center-right politicians could also enter the fray.

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