New cabinet: did Macron make the right choices?

The government reshuffle in France is still a source of disagreement. After the poor performance of his party LREM in the second round of the municipal elections, President Emmanuel Macron had redistributed key ministerial portfolios. Jean Castex, who coordinated France's coronavirus reopening strategy, is the new prime minister. Commentators suspect Macron is positioning himself for the next elections - but are at odds as to whether the strategy will pay off.

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L'Obs (FR) /

Ready for the campaign trail

Macron could not have found a better sidekick than Castex, L'Obs writes in praise:

“He's the opposite of the president, with both feet firmly on the ground and rooted in the rural areas. He'll be the president's all-terrain vehicle, ready to criss-cross France. He holds Emmanuel Macron's fate in his hands. At first glance they're rough and cracked. ... We're already in the preparatory phase for the 2022 election. ... The time for long-term plans is over, it's now a matter of quick measures to reduce unemployment and boost consumption, which amount to campaign gifts. After using the stick, Emmanuel Macron is now pulling out the carrot. If the French man on the street can benefit from it, why not? ... As the saying goes: 'You don't look a gift horse in the mouth.'”

Politis (FR) /

Castex is a puppet PM

The new prime minister, once an aide to Nicolas Sarkozy, is not free to make his own decisions, criticises Politis:

“In the end what matters isn't that Edouard Philippe has gone and Jean Castex has replaced him, because the policy of both follows guidelines laid out by Emmanuel Macron. ... Almost everything has already been set out for Castex. He has very little autonomy either to think or to act on his own in carrying out the affairs of the state. Yes, he may be able to come up with a few catchphrases or buzzwords in his inaugural speech. ... Nevertheless, the tasks entrusted to the new prime minister amount to pursuing under Emmanuel Macron the scrapping operation he started under Nicolas Sarkozy.”

Le Monde (FR) /

Pandering to the right

Le Monde is surprised to see the conservative lawyer Eric Dupond-Moretti appointed as justice minister:

“This appointment is obviously intended to shock, but for what purpose? To cover up the fact that the rest of the appointments aren't exactly exciting? Or is it a concession to the current populist mood to appoint a 'big mouth' as minister? Or to settle outstanding scores with the judges? Because Dupond-Moretti has not minced his words on this score lately. ... Obviously, Macron is pandering to the right-wing electorate, which, like the new minister, is fond of denouncing 'the judges' republic'. The price that must be paid is the destabilisation of the judicial system. And that appears too high.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

This could quickly go wrong

For De Volkskrant, the new government is comprised of a bunch of veterans and little-known officials, which poses a substantial risk:

“The new prime minister Jean Castex was a high-ranking official under President Sarkozy. The appointment of this fairly colourless official shows that Macron wants to be in the spotlight as much as possible in the run-up to 2022. It's a risky decision. Many French already see him as authoritarian and elitist. If something goes wrong, he no longer has a popular prime minister like Edouard Philippe to pick up the slack. And there's a lot that can go wrong. In the run-up to the presidential election, Emmanuel Macron will be primarily concerned with combating an economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.”

Le Soir (BE) /

At least three allies

The president stands a good chance of winning in 2022, Le Soir counters:

“They say Emmanuel Macron has no allies. But he does. At least three, in fact: Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who will ensure that there won't be a joint candidate on the left; the radical environmentalists, who will move in the same direction; and the anarchists. In the large Parisian banlieue of Aubervilliers, a communist stronghold for centuries, the extreme left has not hesitated to leave the city to the right. ... Three allies for Macron? Four even - both the most recent elections and the polls show that the classic right has no chance of reaching the second round of the presidential election.”

The Guardian (GB) /

Recession could ruin re-election efforts

The impending economic downturn due to Covid-19 could cost Emmanuel Macron his re-election, The Guardian notes:

“With presidential elections less than two years away, Mr Macron's reshuffle this week is thus an attempt finally to get on the front foot. ... According to polls, Mr Macron would once again beat Ms Le Pen comfortably in a head-to-head runoff, were it held tomorrow. But for the populist right, the coming recession was always likely to be more fertile terrain than a public health emergency. Despite his best efforts, as the economy enters uncharted waters Mr Macron still finds himself at the mercy of events.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

Manoeuvring for 2022

Emmanuel Macron is trying to prepare the way for his re-election in 2022, Brussels correspondent Andrea Bonanni explains in La Repubblica:

“Macron knows that his only hope for re-election is a runoff vote against Marine Le Pen's populist and anti-European far right. That's why he's trying to prevent a Gaullists renaissance and occupy the political space of the moderate centre-right, while letting the Socialists and Greens fight for left-wing votes. If he succeeds and if the Socialists and Greens fail to find a joint presidential candidate, the incumbent president will have a good chance of being the only democratic and pro-European competitor against Le Pen's anti-EU far right to make it to the second round.”

Les Echos (FR) /

Lacking tact

Simply appointing new ministers is not enough, Les Echos warns:

“After three years marked by massive social movements such as the unprecedented mobilisation of the guardians of the public good (police officers, firefighters and nurses), the style of government should now also change. This is all the more urgent in view of the divisions in French society at the outset of the looming long-term crisis - because the coronavirus drama has by no means healed the rifts. Given the extreme fragility of the social fabric, tact is required. ... While the health and education sectors are only asking for reparations, the president has not renounced his grand ambition of restructuring the state. What seems to be lacking at the very top in the Elysée Palace is that method of government known as wisdom.”

Stuttgarter Zeitung (DE) /

Missing the green boat

The restart Emmanuel Macron had promised hasn't really materialised, the Stuttgarter Zeitung comments:

“The presentation of the new prime minister Jean Castex on Friday smacked of faintheartedness and strategising. ... It's particularly bitter for Emmanuel Macron that not a single prominent representative of the Greens agreed to take on a ministerial post. The Greens have largely ridiculed the president for his new programme, in which environmental protection is supposed to be a mainstay. One of Macron's goals was to take advantage of the Greens' current political success. But at least as far as filling ministerial posts goes, he has failed.”

Libération (FR) /

President takes centre stage

In appointing Castex the president has above all strengthened his own position, notes Laurent Joffrin, editor-in-chief of Libération:

“The communiqué put out by the Élysée contains a mistake. It announces that the president has appointed Jean Castex as prime minister. But it should be read as: The president has appointed Emmanuel Macron as prime minister. ... With the nomination of a man who is unknown to the public and has no real party backing, who is praised for his organisational talent and his affability but is alien to the national political stage and therefore lacks autonomy, the president has named a chief of staff or - as Nicolas Sarkozy said - a 'staff member'. Emmanuel Macron is thus making it clear that he is now putting everything on one card and that he alone - or almost alone - will embody the decisions that are taken in the next two years.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Against the voters' will

Gazeta Wyborcza takes a critical view of the decision to appoint Castex:

“The new French prime minister's political profile raises serious doubts. Shortly after the second round of local elections last week when Macron's LREM lost the fight against the Greens and Socialists in the big cities, one could have thought that the French president should now address left-wing voters interested in climate protection, ecological urban development and the fight for clean air. ... But instead answering the social expectations expressed in the municipal elections, Macron - judging by the new PM's political background - is going in the opposite direction. There are already voices of disappointment in France.”

Handelsblatt (DE) /

A costly move?

Handelsblatt's correspondent in France Thomas Hanke can't come up with a single convincing reason for Philippe's departure:

“It was probably a combination of jealousy of Philippe's growing popularity during the coronavirus crisis - the prime minister was increasingly overshadowing the president - and differences of opinion which prompted Macron to sack Philippe. ... After his dismissal, Philippe could be tempted to run as presidential candidate for the moderate right in 2022. He would take a large number of votes from Macron, who could then be wiped out by the environmentalists and the right - which is exactly what he deserves for a senseless sacking.”

La Libre Belgique (BE) /

A well-founded decision

La Libre Belgique, on the other hand, is sure that Philippe had to go:

“Emmanuel Macron, faced with ongoing unease of French society and the total rout suffered by candidates in his camp, wanted to give new impetus to his presidency. ... One wondered if he would dare to part with Edouard Philippe, who is more popular than he is. ... However, if you take a look at their divergences, you'll see that Edouard Philippe was the one who set France on fire with three measures: the petrol tax that gave rise to the 'yellow vest' movement, setting a limit of 80 km/h on secondary roads, which led to a revolt by local politicians, and the increase in the official retirement age to 64, which triggered the anger of future pensioners.”

Politiken (DK) /

The EU needs a strong France

Macron must finally deliver, Politiken demands:

“France needs reforms. The pension system, the strong centralisation, inequality in the economy and the inflexible labour market must be modernised, and France and Europe have to hope that Macron can regain his fighting spirit. ... The EU needs a strong France, one that can move the EU forward on a green course, together with Germany. There was a reason why France dared to take a leap into the unknown three years ago and chose Macron. The old political system was corroded and in need of renewal. Macron now has two years to prove that he is the right man and is worthy of the people's trust.”