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A political menagerie in Paris

Barbara Wesel
May 17, 2017

France's President Emmanuel Macron has unveiled his cabinet in Paris - an assortment of right- and left-wingers, political professionals and technocrats, young and old. But will they be able to work together as a team?

Frankreich Paris Amtseinführung Emmanuel Macron
Image: Reuters/F. Mori

At first sight, this government appears to be thrown together rather arbitrarily. People with government experience, right- and left-wingers, technocrats, activists, younger and older figures have been appointed by the new president and his prime minister - with Emmanuel Macron making good on his initial promise. It is true - this government is something new, totally heterogeneous and covering France's whole political spectrum. But will Macron be able to turn this cabinet into a team that works together effectively and loyally? For the newly formed government in Paris, an interesting experience is in the offing.

The Republicans

Macron has entrusted one of the most important posts to a dyed-in-the-wool Republican. Bruno Le Maire was appointed as new economy and finance minister, responsible, among other things, for negotiations on the reshaping of the eurozone. Previously, he had been a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy's cabinet, at one point he was a presidential candidate himself, and he is familiar with the government machinery. His appointment indicates that Macron relies on financial solidity. A fellow conservative party member will be in charge of budget and social security supervision and government reforms.

Frankreich Regierungsbildung Bruno Le Maire
Bruno Le Maire is France's new finance ministerImage: Getty Images/AFP/M. Bureau

The right wing of the Republicans party immediately stated that appointing two conservatives was not enough to integrate their camp. They view this cabinet as a temporary solution which, following the Republicans' probable victory in June's parliamentary elections, will be replaced. However, according to opinion polls, a conservative landslide victory is not a certainty. And the malcontents also quietly forgot that Prime Minister Edouard Philippe is a conservative as well (albeit a moderate one). He is a supporter of ex-Prime Minister Alain Juppe and now has the most important job in the newly assembled government.  

The Socialists

Only a single minister was recycled from Francois Hollande's government: Jean-Yves Le Drian, formerly defense minister, was appointed Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs. It had been widely expected that Macron would hold on to the particularly popular and successful Breton with government experience. In his new ministry he, too, signifies a continuity of France's traditional foreign policy course. He is a pro-European. In general, the whole cabinet consists of pro-Europeans - this must have been a criterion for selection across the board.

Frankreich Regierungsbildung Jean-Yves Le Drian
Jean-Yves Le Drian is the only cabinet 'survivor' from the Hollande eraImage: Getty Images/AFP/D. Meyer

The Faithful

During the presidential inauguration last Sunday, the new interior minister burst into tears, emotionally stirred by his idol's success. Gerard Collomb is the mayor of Lyon, a former Socialist and one of the first supporters of the En Marche movement and its leader. Collomb believed in Emmanuel Macron's political skills and supported him when almost no-one else did. Now he must continue the fight against terrorism and calm the country's disgruntled police force. His success - or failure - will also determine the fate of the Macron government.

Frankreich Regierungsbildung Gerard Collomb
Gerard Collomb: Tears of joyImage: Getty Images/AFP/B. Guay

As newly appointed justice minister, centrist Francois Bayrou has to deal with a judiciary in crisis which drew a lot of criticism during the election campaign - in particular over its investigations of Republican presidential candidate Francois Fillon and National Front leader Marine Le Pen. He may not have been an early En Marche supporter, but in this case, Macron is guided by political necessity. He still needs centrists to build majorities.

The women

Frankreich Regierungsbildung Sylvie Goulard
France's new defense minister: Former member of the European Parliament Sylvie GoulardImage: Getty ImagesAFP/C. Triballeau

For the first time, a French president vowed to give half of his cabinet posts to women. Macron managed this, if one counts deputy ministers. Of the 22 appointed ministers, 11 are women. The most prominent job went to Sylvie Goulard, a member of the European Parliament. The new minister of defense is expected to heavily boost European cooperation. Apart from that, portfolios like health, social affairs, culture and gender equality will be headed by women. The real positions of power continue to be occupied by men.

The coup

Macron landed a real coup with respect to appointing his ecology minister. Nicolas Hulot is a long-term environmental activist and a renowned awkward customer. He had always refused to become part of a government. People are already placing bets on how long Hulot will remain a member of Macron's cabinet. As soon as one of the projects he despises most, like the airport in Notre-Dame-des-Landes, is put on the table, he could leave the room, slamming the door on his way out. Hulot will also be responsible for energy and, therefore, France's nuclear industry - a strong signal that points to a phasing out of atomic energy.

Klimawandel Protest in Paris
Nicolas Hulot is France's best known environmentalistImage: /AFP/Getty Images/F. Guillot

An experiment

The new French cabinet is an experiment, an attempt to do things completely differently. Macron has amalgamated not only political camps and generations, he has also appointed outside experts, tapping a female doctor as health minister and appointing a number of people from the business world. And he has created an interesting new post: a minister for cohesion between urban and rural areas. After all, Macron only has to look to his own election success in order to realize the degree to which France is divided. He achieved majorities in every regional capital and in the West of the country. In the North, South and among the rural population, the right-wing populist National Front took the lead.

It will be exciting to see whether this colorful assortment of cabinet members can work together, whether right- and left-wingers will be able to broker compromises - after all, France so far has no tradition of coalition building. Also whether the young will be able to learn from the old-timers, and whether the technocrats can get along with the civil servants in their ministries. And, above all: whether this government can pursue common goals and be loyal to their president. Interesting times await in Paris.

New French government unveiled - DW's Lisa Louis

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