Macron goes all out in high-stakes cabinet reshuffle to fight far-right – Politico

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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron has pushed rising star Gabriel Attal to center stage in a high-risk gamble aimed at halting the rise of the far right before European elections.

In a surprise move on Tuesday, Macron appointed his former education minister and one of France's most popular politicians as the country's youngest-ever prime minister in a bid to revitalize his flagging presidency — despite the risk of hastening the end of his reign. .

Macron is under pressure to start his presidency with the far-right National Rally party ahead of centrists in opinion polls ahead of June's EU elections, and following two brutal battles last year over immigration and pensions.

In contrast to the no-holds-barred election campaign led by 28-year-old Jordan Bardella, the National Rally's main candidate, Macron's presidency has struggled to show any energy and vitality after seven years of ruling France, and talk of a lame duck. The presidency has become widespread in political circles.

Despite his short political career, the 34-year-old Attal has gained a reputation as a stubborn attack dog or “word sniper” against the far right, having already clashed with Bardella in previous election debates, and is a skilled operator fluent in English. As a government spokesperson during the Covid pandemic and as Minister of Education.

“It's a great media coup,” said a conservative GOP member who was granted anonymity to discuss a sensitive topic. Macron “does it because [Attal] He added: “He will lead the campaign for the European elections… He was the only one who could stand up to Bardella.”

Several political insiders told Politico that the European election battle was one of the main reasons behind Macron's choice of Attal.

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“Gabriel Attal and Jordan Bardella are of the same generation, that is clear. “Attal has political acumen, he knows how to deliver strong words, so he is someone who can confront the National Rally,” said a Macron aide, adding that thanks to his “work” he would be able to overcome the Rally. the National.

Nominating a feisty politician with his own ambitions also carries significant risks for the president, who in the past has preferred more modest technocrats as aides. An Attal premiership may accelerate talks about what comes after Macron as the French president cannot run for a third term.

Attal's rapid rise, unlike Macron himself, arouses dismay among Macron's heavyweight allies, who view with suspicion the accomplished young man assuming the reins of government. An ally of the president said on Monday that Macron was “forced to work hard” to accept the nomination when it was supposed to be a “knockout.”

Macron Mini Me in the campaign

The upcoming European elections will be the last time that Macron faces his opponent, Marine Le Pen, before the end of his four-year term. The victory of the far right will reverberate for many years and poison the president's legacy.

But the clash comes at the worst possible time for the president. Not only is the National Rally leading its centrist coalition by nearly 10 points in the polls, but Macron's presidency has reached rock bottom.

Poll for the European Parliament elections from opinion polls

For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Polls.

The president's forces emerged exhausted after the adoption of the tough immigration bill with the support of the far right, an incident that almost led to the split of his centrist coalition. The immigration battle follows heated debates last spring over reform of the French pension system, which sparked weeks of protests across the country.

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Macron's support rate is declining in opinion polls, according to opinion polls conducted by Politico newspaper, where his support rate reached only 30 percent.

His outgoing Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has been criticized as a technocrat lacking in charisma and political agility, exhausted by successive struggles to pass legislation after Macron's defeat in last year's parliamentary elections. It also lost much of its political capital when it failed to anticipate or prevent a surprise defeat in parliament, when the National Assembly rejected the immigration bill without a vote in December.

Attal, on the other hand, is a new hand at the wheel.

Alexander Holroyd, a member of parliament for Macron's Ennahda party, said: “This is great news. We will have a prime minister who is politically active and able to embody Macron's pro-European vision.”

He added: “To stop the far right, which is on the rise not only in France but throughout Europe, we have to show that political action is effective.” Speaking to the general public is one of the things Attal is good at.

Strategically, Attal's candidacy may also help secure the support of centre-left voters, with left-wing MEP Raphael Glucksmann emerging as a rival candidate ahead of the European elections. Attal, a former member of the Socialist Party and the first openly gay prime minister, espouses progressive ideas and has made cyberbullying and homophobia a prominent issue.

What has really changed?

Macron himself tasked Attal with “renewing” his government, “boldly” and “in the spirit of 2017,” his first election year, as he put it. Written on X.

But while Attal is a new face, Macron's room for maneuver on the home front is shrinking, and the new premiership is unlikely to be easy. Centrists still lack a majority in parliament, so passing the legislation will remain a painful and humiliating process, as the government seeks Dedicated Alliances with opposition representatives

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Macron is also struggling to find inspiration for his second term, and has piled up vague initiatives, such as last year's “100 days”, the “Saint-Denis meetings” with opposition leaders, and this month's “meeting with the nation”.

But the nomination partly resolves an issue that has haunted Macron's camp for weeks: Who will stand as Macron's main candidate in the European elections? The far right has been campaigning for weeks, and Macron, a notorious procrastinator, has not chosen a main candidate for the renewal campaign in France.

With many heavyweights in government reluctant to lead a tough campaign, the names floated in Paris – Europe Minister Laurence Beaune or Renewal leader Stephane Sigourney – appeared to lack sufficient clout to stand up to the far right.

Gabriel Attal has more on his shoulders than just the European campaign | Photo of swimming pool by Ludovic Marin via AFP/Getty Images

With this week's cabinet reshuffle, the main candidate of France's Renew party could play a more supportive role.

But Attal has more on his shoulders than just the European campaign. As one of the stars of the “Macron generation,” the young politicians who transcended the left-right divide and came to power with the French president, Attal will save or hasten the end of Macronism and its centrist pro-European political show.

It's “the last bullet before the end of his term,” as the same conservative heavyweight mentioned above said.

Pauline de Saint-Rémy contributed reporting

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