Macron move:

Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron has re­placed Édouard Philippe, his prime min­is­ter, with Jean Cas­tex, a vir­tual un­known:

The Irish Times - - Front Page - Lara Mar­lowe

Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron has re­placed Édouard Philippe, his prime min­is­ter of three years, with Jean Cas­tex, a vir­tu­ally un­known high-rank­ing civil ser­vant who shares many of Mr Philippe’s char­ac­ter­is­tics.

Mr Philippe gave his res­ig­na­tion to Mr Macron on Thurs­day evening. The dis­so­lu­tion of the gov­ern­ment was an­nounced by the Élysée yes­ter­day morn­ing, Mr Cas­tex’s ap­point­ment three hours later. He will form a new gov­ern­ment within days.

A source at the Élysée said “a new con­duc­tor” was needed to or­ches­trate Mr Macron’s “change of di­rec­tion” for the last two years of his term. Dur­ing the Covid-19 cri­sis, Mr Macron said he in­tended to “rein­vent” him­self. Ten French news­pa­pers yes­ter­day pub­lished an in­ter­view in which he sought to out­line “a new path”.

Mr Macron said im­prov­ing the hos­pi­tal sys­tem, en­sur­ing the well­be­ing of older peo­ple and giv­ing hope to the young are his three top pri­or­i­ties. The young “will be the first vic­tims of the [coro­n­avirus] cri­sis”, he said, promis­ing to of­fer in­cen­tives to em­ploy­ers who hire them. Mr Macron’s new path does not ap­pear to be sub­stan­tially dif­fer­ent from the old one.

Laurent Ja­co­belli, spokesman for the far-right Rassem­ble­ment Na­tional (RN), de­scribed the new prime min­is­ter as “the per­fect clone of Édouard Philippe”.

The RN is not known for sound po­lit­i­cal judg­ment, but the out­go­ing and in­com­ing prime min­is­ters have a lot in com­mon. Both are white, mid­dle-aged, high-rank­ing civil ser­vants and grad­u­ates of the École Na­tionale d’Ad­min­is­tra­tion, which Mr Macron promised to dis­man­tle be­cause it is per­ceived as elit­ist. Both left the con­ser­va­tive party Les Répub­li­cains to serve Mr Macron.

The main dif­fer­ence, Le Fi­garo noted, is that Philippe was a pro­tégé of the for­mer con­ser­va­tive prime min­is­ter Alain Juppé, while Cas­tex is close to for­mer pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Sarkozy. Mr Macron has re­peat­edly sought ad­vice from Mr Sarkozy, and some see Mr Sarkozy’s hand in his ap­point­ment.

There had been spec­u­la­tion that Mr Macron would ap­point a woman or a So­cial­ist, but Mr Cas­tex is from the same mould as most of Macron’s en­tourage, in­clud­ing Alexis Kohler, the wonk­ish sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the Élysée, to whom Mr Cas­tex is re­port­edly close.

Green wave

Dis­ap­point­ment was great­est among en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, who be­lieved their “green wave” in last Sun­day’s mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions would force Mr Macron to make the en­vi­ron­ment his top pri­or­ity. Julien Bayou, the sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the Europe Écolo­gie Les Verts party, tweeted that he had never heard Mr Cas­tex talk about ecol­ogy.

“We’re miss­ing a his­toric op­por­tu­nity to put the coun­try on the path to en­vi­ron­men­tal tran­si­tion and so­cial jus­tice,” Mr

Bayou told France Info ra­dio. “The false sus­pense is over. There is no real change of di­rec­tion.”

Richard Fer­rand, a for­mer So­cial­ist, speaker of the Na­tional As­sem­bly and long-term

‘‘

Cas­tex has held one elected po­si­tion; as mayor of Prades, pop­u­la­tion 6,000

Macron loy­al­ist, re­port­edly sent a 22-page let­ter to the pres­i­dent on Thurs­day night in which he crit­i­cised Mr Philippe for ad­vo­cat­ing “ir­ri­tat­ing” re­forms such as an aborted move to lower the speed limit, a ¤5 monthly de­crease in the hous­ing al­lowance and a car­bon tax.

But Mr Philippe’s great­est of­fence may have been lèse-ma­jesté, in be­com­ing more pop­u­lar than his boss. Mr Macron re­ceived a 38 per cent ap­proval rat­ing in a re­cent poll pub­lished in the Jour­nal du Di­manche. Mr Philippe ob­tained a 50 per cent ap­proval rat­ing.

Mr Cas­tex has held one elected po­si­tion; as mayor of the town of Prades, pop­u­la­tion 6,000, in the eastern Pyre­nees. He has now been el­e­vated to prime min­is­ter of a coun­try of 66 mil­lion.

France’s new prime min­is­ter was cab­i­net di­rec­tor to the con­ser­va­tive politi­cian Xavier Ber­trand in two ad­min­is­tra­tions, at the health and labour min­istries, then a so­cial af­fairs ad­viser and deputy sec­re­tary-gen­eral at the Élysée un­der Mr Sarkozy. His un­der­stand­ing of health pol­icy was one of his main qual­i­fi­ca­tions for the job.

Mr Ber­trand has said he will chal­lenge Mr Macron in the 2022 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. The ap­point­ment of one of his clos­est aides is seen as Mr Macron’s way of fur­ther frag­ment­ing the French right.

As “Mr Re­open­ing” at the end of the lock­down, Mr Cas­tex showed his ef­fi­cacy as a link be­tween the cen­tral state and the prov­inces, the Élysée said. He will be ex­pected to use that skill in car­ry­ing out Mr Macron’s plans for de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion.

PHO­TO­GRAPH: JEANNE FRANK/ BLOOMBERG

For­mer prime min­is­ter Édouard Philippe ap­plauds his suc­ces­sor Jean Cas­tex dur­ing a han­dover cer­e­mony in Paris.

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