French president reshuffles government after election defeats

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron reorganized his cabinet on Monday after losing his parliamentary majority and called on his new government to “stay strong” amid Russia’s war in Ukraine and “transform” the heavily indebted French economy.

The new government includes familiar faces from Macron’s centrist and center-right alliance, but none from the far-left and far-right parties that are now the main opposition forces in France’s National Assembly.

In a Cabinet meeting after the announcement, Macron urged ministers to “stay strong in the context of a war which has a profound impact on many things. I think it has not been taken enough taken into account in the public debate in France.

His government plans to introduce a bill to address growing public concerns about the soaring cost of living, but his opponents say Macron is out of touch with the daily pain of inflation.

After France spent a lot of money to help the economy weather pandemic shutdowns and soften the blow from high energy prices made worse by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Macron warned on Monday that ” progress can rarely be financed by unsupported debt or at least unsustainable debt”.

He said the government would focus on environmental challenges and “major demographic transitions” and work with local elected officials, businesses and citizens to “deeply transform our collective action”.

One of Macron’s most controversial plans is to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 or 65. His government says it is necessary to avoid state bankruptcy in a country with one of the highest life expectancies in the world. Macron’s main political rivals oppose the plan as threatening the French social model.

The government reshuffle comes six weeks after Macron appointed Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne to head a new coalition government at the start of the president’s second term. Macron – and French presidents before him – had set a rule before the parliamentary vote: only ministers who retain their seats will remain in government.

Three of Macron’s 15 ministers were not re-elected and were replaced on Monday.

Christophe Bechu is the new environment minister, an important job as the EU pushes for more aggressive emissions cuts, and was swiftly criticized by campaigners who questioned his credentials. Francois Braun is now in charge of the health ministry, a top job as COVID-19 cases rise again.

In addition, Damien Abad, the minister of policies for people with disabilities who is the subject of an investigation for rape and sexual misconduct, has been replaced by Jean-Christophe Combe, former director general of the French Red Cross.

Allegations of sexual misconduct against Abad emerged just days after Borne, only the second woman in French history to be named prime minister, announced her new government. Abad strongly denies the allegations.

The allegations were particularly embarrassing for the new prime minister and president, who both claim to be champions of women’s rights and have pledged “zero tolerance” for sexual misconduct.

Two other ministers accused of rape retained their posts.

Macron is together! The alliance won the most seats in the National Assembly in last month’s elections, but fell 44 seats short of a majority in France’s most powerful parliament as voters opted for the left-wing coalition Nupes and Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally.

With the most seats in the National Assembly, his government still has the ability to govern, but only by negotiating with legislators. To avoid a stalemate, Macron’s Renaissance party and its allies could try to negotiate on a case-by-case basis with center-left and conservative lawmakers.

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Reporting by Barbara Surk from Nice.

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