28th Feb 2024

Can new French PM 'Baby Macron' help beat Le Pen?

  • Gabriel Attal, France's youngest-ever prime minister at 34, in his previous role as education minister, where he introduced streaming and banned Muslim headwear (Photo: Wikimedia)
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Earlier this week, French prime minister Élisabeth Borne presented her resignation letter, after having been informed by president Emmanuel Macron he wanted her gone in order to renew his cabinet.

The 34-year-old minister of education, Gabriel Attal, was appointed shortly after to succeed her, and the transition of power took place that same afternoon.

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  • Waiting in the wins for 2027, Marine Le Pen (Photo: Emma Sofia Dedorson)

Macron's decision to reshuffle the cabinet didn't come as a surprise. During the first two years of his second term, he and prime minister Borne pushed through widely-contested reforms and laws, many times by bypassing parliament, leaning on article 49.3 of the French constitution — a mechanism that allows the prime minister to force laws through parliament without a vote. Borne's habit of using that tool even earned her the nickname "Madame 49.3".

In her resignation letter, she specifically mentioned how proud she was of the pension reform (without mentioning the help of article 49.3) and, at the end of last year, the pushing through of the controversial new immigration law (without mentioning the help of the far-right to do so.)

The far-right Marine Le Pen called the country's new immigration law "an ideological victory" and "a first step". The law restricts foreigners' right to social benefits, especially for the unemployed and allows France to strip dual nationals of their French nationality if they commit crimes. It also makes conditions for family reunification much tougher and strengthens the government's ability to deport some groups of foreigners.

Macron himself has more than three years left in his current mandate. In several interviews, he has said he is planning for the 2027 presidential elections. His biggest fear is to be succeeded by his rival in the last two elections, Le Pen — the leader of the nationalist party National Rally. Recent polls have been devastating for him. Macron holds a record-low 30 percent approval rating while Le Pen's party National Rally is ahead of his coalition by about 10 points in European elections polling.

The European elections in June are thus seen as a crucial test for the state of French politics.

'Middle way' in question

In 2017, Macron got elected for his first term on a "at same time" platform. The neither right nor left, but a middle-path for French politics. For the left-leaning political parties, there is no doubt, however, that Macron is rightwing. After his tightly-won second election, with many voting for him only to defeat Le Pen, he promised to be "the whole of France's president".

However, his strategy seems to have been to give the left some climate policies, and to proclaim gender issues "la grande cause" [the big cause] of both his mandates.

France's green and feminist movements do not largely approve of his actual policies, which come from a liberal but rightwards platform.

For example, Macron is all for a European, as well as a French, Green Deal — but only as long as French companies in competition with less-environmentally friendly countries (such as China) are not hurt.

And he is all for equality between men and women — except for "witch-hunts" (Macron's words) against national treasures such as actor Gérard Depardieu — accused of rape by two women and sexual harassment by at least 14 others.

When Macron appointed Borne as his prime minister in 2022, she became only the second female prime minister in French history. Her successor, Gabriel Attal is, at 34, both the youngest-ever, and the first openly-gay prime minister.

Borne and Attal are both 'Macronists', with a background in the Socialist party, as opposed to the two prime ministers of Macron's first mandate, Édouard Philippe and Jean Castex, both from the Republicans. These are all, at least on paper, signs of a progressive mindset, and proof of the 'at the same time' method put into practice

As she resigned, Borne was mainly praised by the rightwing for her "courage" on the pension reform and the immigration law. Now, Macron seeks fresh momentum by appointing a new government.

Who is Gabriel Attal?

Attal is not only young and openly gay, but he is also a devoted Macronist. As the outgoing minister of education, he made himself a name by banning the Muslim traditional dress abaya from public schools, and streaming pupils into groups from an early age, according to their abilities.

Again, it was mainly the French rightwing who saluted these measures while the left, such as former socialist presidential candidate Benoit Hamon, claimed these groups would serve only to divide and cement society into an elite and lower level groups from a young age.

Attal, nicknamed 'Baby-Macron' becomes the youngest-ever prime minister appointed by the youngest-ever president. They are both convinced that attacking the unemployed, making the employed work longer with less security and forcibly assimilating the Muslim community, while creating an entrepreneurship-friendly nation, is the best protection against a far-right president in 2027.

Before plotting this liberal entrepreneurial future though, Macron forced Borne to do his dirty laundry.

Author bio

Emma Sofia Dedorson is a Paris-based journalist covering politics, culture and society in France, Spain and Italy.


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