Gabriel Attal becomes France’s youngest prime minister in modern history

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Gabriel Attal becomes France’s youngest prime minister in modern history



PARIS, FRANCE – DECEMBER 20: French Education Minister Gabriel Attal during the weekly cabinet meeting at the President’s Elysee Palace on December 20 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Christian Liewig – Corbis/Getty Images)

Christian Liewig – Corbis | Corbis news | Getty Images

French President Emmanuel Macron named Gabriel Attal as the country’s new prime minister on Tuesday, setting a new course ahead of summer European Union elections.

Attal, the current education minister, will be the youngest person to hold France’s second-highest office at 34.

This follows the apparently reluctant resignation on Monday of Elisabeth Borne, who said in a letter that she had been informed that this was Macron’s wish. Borne said it was “more necessary than ever to continue the reforms implemented by the government”.

In France, the Prime Minister heads the government and is appointed by the President but cannot be dismissed directly by the President.

Attal will take office on Tuesday afternoon and begin his first official trip to the flooded Pas-de-Calais region on the same day.

In his first speech as prime minister, Attal said school reform would be one of his priorities, Le Monde reported. Attal said his three economic priorities would be to ensure that work is valued more than not working as households struggle with inflation; Simplifying life for businesses and entrepreneurs; and youth employment.

PARIS, FRANCE – DECEMBER 20: French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne during the weekly cabinet meeting at the President’s Elysee Palace on December 20 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo by Christian Liewig – Corbis/Getty Images)

Christian Liewig – Corbis | Corbis news | Getty Images

Macron and Borne battled through a turbulent 2023 in which the government narrowly avoided toppling despite opposition from lawmakers and the public to their move to raise the retirement age. Macron’s centrist Renaissance Party lost its parliamentary majority in 2022.

In December, the government suffered another blow when a first draft of an immigration law that was seen as a model for Macron’s policies was rejected. It was eventually passed after being reworded to take a tougher line.

According to a Politico poll, Macron’s personal disapproval rating is currently at 68%.

Ensemble, a liberal Renaissance coalition, trails both the far-right National Rally and the left-wing New Ecological and Social People’s Union.

Attal, a close ally of Macron, is the government’s most popular minister, according to polls. He will be France’s first openly gay prime minister.

“I know that I can count on your energy and commitment to implement the rearmament and regeneration project that I announced,” Macron said on X, formerly Twitter, addressing Attal.

The political move comes ahead of June’s European Parliament elections, in which Renaissance and its centrist coalition are trying to avoid an embarrassing blow.

The choice of the relatively young Attal, rather than one of several more senior ministers reportedly vying for the role, was likely an attempt to avoid infighting within the party ahead of the election, political adviser Julien Hoez told CNBC.

“There have been many rumors of friction between Macron and Borne, with Borne reluctant to be seen as the sacrificial lamb representing the government’s less popular positions,” Hoez said by phone.

“With all the drama of the last year, the unrest that was never adequately responded to, the immigration fiasco and pension reform, Macron probably thought it was time to move on and make something better.”

“Attal is reasonably well known and has a reputation for working hard. But overall the policy will not change significantly from Macron’s existing agenda,” he added.

A police officer gestures during unrest following the death of Nahel, a 17-year-old teenager who was killed by a French police officer in Nanterre during a traffic stop on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, France, July 1, 2023.

Nacho Doce | Reuters

Macron is likely to use the second half of his final term to push for less divisive policies, including on crime and anti-social behavior, Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe at Eurasia Group, said in a research note.

Meanwhile, Attal will be deployed as the “face of Macronism” in the European elections, which will see him compete against National Front President Jordan Bardella, who is just 28 years old, Rahman said.

Attal left the Socialist Party in 2016 to support Macron’s 2017 presidential campaign. He has been in government since 2018, including as State Secretary for Education and Youth and as Budget Minister.

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As education minister, he announced a ban on wearing the abaya, a long outer garment worn by some Muslim women, in schools.

On Tuesday, left-wing political leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon accused Attal of returning to his role as government spokesman, which he held in 2020.

“The office of prime minister is disappearing. The presiding monarch governs alone with his court,” wrote Mélenchon on X, referring to criticism that Macron is a micromanager who has increasingly centralized power.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire talks about the economy, the ECB and investments in France.

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2024-01-09 16:24:52

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