PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday reshuffled his government in search of a fresh start for his second term, dogged by his failure to win a parliamentary majority last month.
While he finally ceded to public pressure by removing Damien Abad, the solidarity and social cohesion minister facing a rape probe, there was little sign of a major renewal that could turn Macron's fortunes around.
Monday's reshuffle brought in some new faces, including Abad's replacement, French Red Cross chief Jean-Christophe Combe, and emergency doctor Francois Braun as health minister.
OECD chief economist Laurence Boone was named Europe minister, replacing Macron loyalist Clement Beaune who became notorious for verbal jousting with Brexit supporters. Beaune was moved to the transport ministry.
Other posts in the 41-strong cabinet mostly went to politicians from the different factions in Macron's camp. The foreign, finance and defence ministers all remained in place.
Christophe Bechu, mayor of the Loire city of Angers and a close ally of former prime minister Edouard Philippe, was named environment minister -- long trailed by the president as a top priority for the five years ahead.
“It’s a message to the troops: loyalty will be rewarded. Looking ahead to the coming months, when votes on new laws are likely to come down to just a few votes,“ tweeted Frederic Says, a political commentator for broadcaster France Culture.
“There’s no surprises here,“ Communist Party chief Fabien Roussel told broadcaster LCI, saying he “feels like they’re just starting over again with the same people”.
A first test for the new government will come on July 6, when Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne will lay out her policies before parliament.
The government is still mum on whether it will hold a traditional high-stakes confidence vote afterwards.
Short of majority
Macron beat far-right leader Marine Le Pen a second time in April's presidential run-off to win a new five-year term.
But a lacklustre campaign for last month's parliamentary vote saw his supporters win just 250 seats, 39 short of the absolute majority needed to push through new laws.
“In a mere press release, Emmanuel Macron announces the new government. Those who failed are all reappointed,“ tweeted Le Pen, saying the president had “ignored” the demands of the French for a “different politics”.
Macron was largely absent from the domestic political stage between the presidential election and the vote for the National Assembly -- absorbing himself instead on the international scene with Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
But where the image of the head of state fighting France's corner abroad might once have assured presidents backing in the parliamentary poll, this time around it reinforced Macron's image as distant and arrogant.
His opponents on far right and hard left enjoyed free rein to attack what few concrete policies the majority offered, such as an unpopular plan to push back the legal retirement age to 65.
And after a first term buffeted by crises including the anti-government “yellow vests” protests and the Covid-19 pandemic, Macron could point to few successes in the reform programme he was elected on in 2017.
The once all-powerful president will now need to find allies in a parliament with large blocs from the far right and left-wing alliance NUPES -- both broadly hostile to his leadership.
Opposition forces have ruled out any formal coalition, leaving the government to glean support where it can as bills come up for the vote.
“Whereas yesterday he opposed ‘imperfect compromises’, from now on the president will have to resign himself to them,“ newspaper Le Monde commented this weekend, complaining of “presidential hesitations” and “ideological vagueness” at the Elysee. - AFP