France’s New Cabinet Mixes Fresh and Familiar, Hinting at Macron’s Priorities
PARIS — France announced a new government on Friday that mixed veteran politicians from President Emmanuel Macron’s prior administration with surprise newcomers in key ministries, as Mr. Macron hopes to soothe a fractured country while continuing to reform it for his second term.
The announcement came just weeks before crucial elections that will determine control over Parliament, and several days after Mr. Macron, seeking to woo voters on the left, nominated Élisabeth Borne, a former labor and environment minister, as prime minister — only the second woman to occupy that position in France.
“It’s a gender-equal, balanced government, between those who were already ministers these past few years and new figures who were picked because they were competent and committed,” Ms. Borne told the TF1 television broadcaster after Friday’s announcement.
Many names were familiar as Mr. Macron’s chief of staff, standing on the front steps of the Élysée Palace, listed the 14 men and 13 women who are now part of the new government. Including Ms. Borne, the cabinet is evenly split among men and women.
The number of veterans staying on, who included a mix of figures from the left and the right, were a sign that Mr. Macron wanted a measure of stability, with fewer political novices than in 2017.
Bruno Le Maire, a stalwart of Mr. Macron’s first term who has been economy and finance minister since 2017, kept his job. So did Gérald Darmanin, the tough-talking interior minister who became a symbol of Mr. Macron’s shift rightward on issues like security and immigration. Many ministers were shuffled from one portfolio to another.
But other names — or their absence — came as more of a surprise.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, a well-known figure after a decade as France’s defense minister and then foreign minister, was replaced by Catherine Colonna, a respected career diplomat.
Ms. Colonna handled bickering with Britain over Brexit as France’s ambassador in London and was the spokeswoman for President Jacques Chirac in the early 2000s, at the height of a Franco-American spat over the war in Iraq. Now she will have to contend with the instability and uncertainty provoked by the war in Ukraine.
One of the starkest changes came from the education ministry, where Jean-Michel Blanquer — who argued vocally over his years there that American concepts on race, gender, post-colonialism and “wokism” were tearing France apart — was replaced by Pap Ndiaye, a prominent academic of Senegalese and French descent who studied for several years in the United States and who led efforts to establish Black studies as a discipline in France.
“I am a pure product of Republican meritocracy, of which schools are a pillar,” Mr. Ndiaye said in a speech at the ministry.
France’s far-right swiftly lashed out against him. Marine Le Pen, who lost to Mr. Macron in last month’s presidential elections, said on Twitter that Mr. Ndiaye was “the last stone” of France’s “deconstruction.”
In contrast, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the far-left France Unbowed movement, praised Mr. Ndiaye as a “great intellectual” but had little good to say about the rest of the government, accusing it at a news conference of failing to live up to Mr. Macron’s vow that his second term would be more attuned to social justice and environmental issues than his first.
“And so it will be the worst, that is to say continuity,” said Mr. Mélenchon, who hopes that the parliamentary elections in June will propel a left-wing coalition to victory, forcing Mr. Macron to name him prime minister, a situation most political analysts deem unlikely.
Other government newcomers included Rima Abdul-Malak, who was appointed culture minister after several years as Mr. Macron’s adviser on cultural issues, and Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, formerly the managing director of the French tennis federation, who was appointed sports minister at a key time for France, which is hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics.
The composition of the new government, which Ms. Borne said would focus first and foremost on concerns over inflation, could also change after the legislative elections in June, if Mr. Macron deems it necessary to better reflect the results or if one of the ministers running for a seat in Parliament loses.
Some small signs hinted at Mr. Macron’s priorities for the five years to come.
Clément Beaune, a close adviser to Mr. Macron who handles European affairs, kept his job but was promoted to a higher rank of minister.
And the portfolio of Mr. Le Maire now includes “industrial and digital sovereignty” while the agriculture minister is also in charge of “food sovereignty.”
These kinds of tweaks to the official job titles or ranks of ministers are common in France and are partly symbolic. They also reflect, however, a president’s priorities — in this case, Mr. Macron’s continued insistence that France should play a leading role in Europe and that both polities need more “sovereignty” and “autonomy” to protect their citizens from the chaos of pandemics, wars and stretched supply chains.
The government has also created a new “general secretariat for ecological planning” headed by Ms. Borne to coordinate France’s fight against climate change and its push for a green energy transition, both priorities outlined by Mr. Macron after his election.