Emmanuel Macron casts net wide for debut cabinet

President Emmanuel Macron of France reached across party lines to create a government of pro-European centrists and political newcomers as he tries to maximise his chances of securing a parliamentary majority in elections next month.

Four days after taking office as France’s youngest president, Mr Macron, 39, said former ministers Bruno Le Maire, a member of the centre-right Republican party, and Gerard Collomb, the Socialist mayor of Lyon, would be key members of his first 22-strong cabinet.

The poaching of Mr Le Maire, who stood as a presidential candidate in primary elections for his centre-right party, to be economy minister follows the appointment of Edouard Philippe, 46, also a Republican, as prime minister on Monday. Half of the cabinet are women and half have not previously held public office.

Mr Le Maire, 48, was agriculture minister under rightwing president Nicolas Sarkozy. A Europhile and a good German speaker, he attracted less than 3 per cent of the vote in his party’s primaries.

Mr Collomb will deal with France’s high state of terrorism alert as the new interior minister. François Bayrou, the leader of the centrist Modem party, becomes justice minister. Gérald Darmanin, a rising star of the Republican party, has been named budget minister.

Other critical appointments include Sylvie Goulard, a centrist MEP and early supporter of Mr Macron, as defence minister. Ms Goulard, 52, replaces Jean-Yves Le Drian, a senior Socialist figure and loyalist of outgoing president François Hollande, who becomes foreign affairs minister, also in charge of EU affairs.

The appointments reflect “an unprecedented overhaul of our political life”, an aide to Mr Macron noted. “This government brings together political figures from all the political spectrum.”

Mr Macron campaigned on a promise to erase the right-left political divide and needs to weaken France’s established parties, partly by co-opting its members, to secure a majority for his La République en Marche party in the legislative elections on June 11 and 18. Founded last year, the party is fighting its first parliamentary election.

Mr Macron’s first cabinet may be shortlived. If the president fails to secure an absolute majority in the lower house next month, he may be forced to form a new government reflecting the political forces at play.

Socialist defections have mounted after the party’s drubbing in the presidential election. But conservatives, while also bruised by the ill-fated campaign of their nominee François Fillon, believe they can still win a significant share of seats in the National Assembly. They hope to tap into centre-right voters’ frustrations as well as their established network of local officials and the inexperience of Mr Macron’s party.

“While there aren’t that many high-profile rightwing defections, Le Maire’s appointment is a strong message to centre-right voters ahead of legislative elections, in essence telling them, ‘this government is pro-business, pro-reforms and serious about public spending cuts’,” said Luc Rouban, a professor at Sciences Po Cevipof.

His nomination as economy minister is likely to reassure Germany further over France’s willingness to implement structural reforms, seen in Berlin as a precondition for rebooting Franco-German relations.

“Naming a German-speaking conservative as French finance minister and eurogroup member is a smart choice,” tweeted Henrik Enderlein, an EU professor at Hertie School. “A friendly challenger to [German finance minister Wolfgang] Schäuble.”

Mr Le Maire is expected to help put together the bill intended to inject more flexibility into France’s job market if the government survives the legislative elections.

Mr Macron made good on his pledge to include political newcomers, naming an immunology and cancer specialist as health minister and an Olympic fencing champion as sports minister.

Nicolas Hulot, an environmental activist and TV presenter who was involved in French efforts to seal the Paris accord on global warming in 2015, was named environment minister, overseeing energy policy. Shares in EDF, the French energy company with a large nuclear business, fell 7 per cent after the cabinet posts were announced.

Mounir Mahjoubi, who fended off hacking attacks during the presidential campaign as head of security for Mr Macron’s party, was made junior minister in charge of the digital economy.

Adding to the uncertainty, cabinet members whose areas are also vying for a seat in parliament, such as Mr Le Maire, will have to resign from their new posts if they are defeated in the legislative election.