French President Emmanuel Macron is set to unveil his cabinet on Tuesday, a delicate balancing act for the centrist who has promised to include faces from the left and right as well as political newcomers.
On Monday, his first day in office, Macron named centre-right MP Edouard Philippe as prime minister and travelled to Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on reforming the EU.
On Tuesday, he and Philippe were finalising a government which Macron says will supersede France’s entrenched left-right divide and breathe new life into the country’s jaded political landscape.
Macron has said half his ministers will be women and that some will be high achievers in business, academia, the civil service or the NGO world. Some could be replaced after next month’s parliamentary election, depending on how many seats Macron’s fledgling Republique En Marche (REM) party wins.
So far his appointments to his presidential team have all gone to men under 50, most of them graduates like him of France’s elite ENA college for senior public servants — which has turned out generations of French politicians.
His choice of Philippe, 46, for prime minister was seen as a strategic pick by the 39-year-old president, who is trying to woo modernisers of all stripes to his side.
A former minister in the outgoing Socialist government, Macron has already convinced dozens of Socialist MPs to run on his general election ticket. But he also needs to win over a part of the right to deliver on his promise of a cross-party approach and weaken his opponents ahead of the two-round June 11-18 parliamentary vote.
Philippe — a moderate member of the Republicans party whose presidential candidate crashed out in the election’s first round — is seen as Macron’s Trojan horse on the right.
While some in the Republicans fumed at Philippe’s appointment, seeing it as a betrayal on his part, others welcomed it and urged the parties to accept Macron’s “outstretched hand”.
“A whole section of the centre and the right is ready to cross the line,” the conservative Le Figaro daily wrote Tuesday.
– Sole surviving Socialist minister –
Among the people tipped for cabinet jobs are conservative ex-agriculture minister Bruno Le Maire, centrist MEP Sylvie Goulard, Lyon’s Socialist Mayor Gerard Collomb and popular outgoing Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
Le Drian is expected to be the only member of the outgoing Socialist government to be kept on, with Macron keeping a careful distance from the little-loved administration of his predecessor Francois Hollande.
Among the non-politicians to be offered roles is well-known environmentalist Nicolas Hulot, a source in the presidency said. Hulot, who has previously turned down such offers, had “decided to go for it”, provided certain conditions were met, the source said.
– ‘Historic’ EU reform –
A day after his inauguration the fervently pro-EU Macron made his first trip abroad, visiting Germany, the other half of the power couple driving European integration. Merkel warmly welcomed the fourth president to occupy the Elysee Palace since she came to power 12 years ago.
Macron, who trounced far-right leader Marine Le Pen in an election fought on globalisation, urged a “historic reconstruction” of Europe to battle the populism sweeping the continent and widespread disillusionment with the EU.
Merkel said they had “a common understanding that we can’t just focus on Britain leaving the EU but that, first and foremost, we have to think about how we can deepen and crisis-proof the European Union, and especially the eurozone.”
Ahead of his visit, Macron’s ideas on reforming the eurozone — including giving it a separate budget and minister, moves that would require treaty change — had sparked scepticism in Berlin.
Merkel, however, appeared keen to support Macron ahead of next month’s general election in which he will faces a tough battle to win an outright majority.
“From the German point of view, it’s possible to change the treaty if it makes sense,” she said.