Gabriel Attal is France’s youngest and openly gay prime minister | ET REALITY

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PARIS – In a typically bold attempt to revitalize his second term, President Emmanuel Macron named Gabriel Attal, 34, as his new prime minister, replacing Élisabeth Borne, 62, who made no secret of the fact that he did not I was happy to be expelled.

Attal, who was previously education minister and has held several government positions since Macron was elected in 2017, becomes France’s first openly gay and youngest prime minister. A recent Ipsos-Le Point opinion poll suggested that he is France’s most popular politician, albeit with an approval rating of only 40 percent.

Macron, whose second term has been marked by a protracted conflict over a pension bill that raises the legal retirement age from 62 to 64 and by a restrictive immigration bill that pleased the right, made clear that He saw in Attal a leader in his own disruptive image.

“I know that I can count on your energy and your commitment to promote the project of civic rearmament and regeneration that I have announced,” Macron said in a message addressed to Mr. Attal in X, formerly Twitter. “In fidelity to the spirit of 2017: transcendence and audacity.”

Macron was 39 when he broke through the French political system that year to become the youngest president in French history. Attal, a loyal ally of the president since joining Macron’s campaign in 2016, will be 38 at the time of the next presidential election in April 2027, and would likely become a presidential candidate if his term is successful. .

This prospect has no appeal to an ambitious French political old guard, which includes Bruno Le Maire, the finance minister, and Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister, whose presidential ambitions are no secret. But for Macron, whose term is limited, it would place a protégé in the succession mix.

“My goal will be to maintain control of our destiny and unleash our French potential,” Attal said after his appointment.

Standing in the bitter cold at a ceremony next to Borne, in the courtyard of the Prime Minister’s residence, Attal said his youth (and Macron’s) symbolized “boldness and movement.” But he also acknowledged that many in France were skeptical of his representatives.

Alain Duhamel, a prominent French author and political commentator, described Attal as “a true instinctive political talent and the most popular figure in an unpopular government.” But, he said, an enormous challenge would test Attal because “Macron’s second term has lacked clarity and has been a time of drift, apart from two unpopular reforms.”

While France is by no means in crisis (its economy has proven relatively resilient despite inflationary pressures and foreign investment is pouring in), it has at times appeared to be in a rather characteristic situation, politically paralyzed, sharply divided. and governable with intermittent recourse to a constitutional tool that allows the approval of bills in the lower house without a vote.

Macron, who was not known for his patience, had grown tired of this sense of stagnation. He decided to oust Borne after 19 months, even though she had worked with great diligence in the trenches of her pension and immigration reforms. Rebukes for her tenacious performance were rare, but he had none of the fuss to which the president is susceptible.

“You have informed me of your desire to change Prime Minister,” Borne wrote in her resignation letter, before noting how passionate she had been about her mission. His discontent was clear.

In a word, Macron had fired Borne, as is the prerogative of any president of the Fifth Republic, and he had done so on social media in a way that, as Sophie Coignard wrote in the weekly Le Point, “singularly lacked elegance.” .

But with European Parliament elections and the Paris Olympics around the corner this summer, Macron, whose approval rating has sunk to 27 percent, wanted a government makeover.

“It’s a generational coup and a clever communication coup,” said Philippe Labro, author and political observer.

Attal has demonstrated the kind of forcefulness and top-down authority that Macron likes during his six months as education minister. He began last summer by declaring that “the abaya can no longer be worn in schools.”

His order, which applies to public middle and high schools, banished the long, loose tunic worn by some Muslim students and unleashed another storm over French identity. In line with the French commitment to “laïcité,” or roughly secularism, “you should not be able to distinguish or identify the religion of students by looking at them,” Attal said.

The move sparked protests among France’s large Muslim minority, which generally sees no reason why young Muslim women should be told how to dress. But the French center-right and far-right approved it, as did Macron.

In a measure that will take effect in 2025, Attal also imposed more severe academic conditions for entry to secondary schools as a sign of his determination to restore discipline.

For these and other reasons, Attal is disliked by the left. Mathilde Panot, leader of the parliamentary group of far-left representatives of the France Insoumise party and part of the largest opposition group in the National Assembly, reacted to her appointment by describing Attal as “Mr. “Macron Jr., a man who has specialized in arrogance and disdain.”

The comment represented a harbinger of the difficulties Attal is likely to face in the 577-seat Assembly, where Macron’s Renaissance Party and its allies do not have an outright majority. The change of prime minister has changed little or nothing for Macron in the difficult arithmetic of governing. His centrist coalition has 250 seats.

Still, Attal may be a more attractive figure than Borne for the center-right, which Macron depended on to pass the immigration bill. Like Macron, the new prime minister comes from the ranks of the Socialist Party, but has since shifted to the right. Attal is also a very adaptable politician, in the image of the president.

The specter that keeps Macron awake at night is that his presidency will end with the election of Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader whose popularity has steadily risen. He dismissed Attal’s appointment as “a childish ballet of ambition and egos”. Still, the new prime minister’s performance in giving France a sense of direction and purpose will weigh on her chances of being elected.

Macron wants a more competitive and dynamic French state, but any new reform package that further reduces elaborate state-funded social protection to reduce the budget deficit will likely face overwhelming opposition. This will be just one of the many dilemmas the president’s chosen wunderkind will face.

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