France's new PM tilts his cabinet to the right

January 13, 2024 4:00 pm

[Source: BBC ]

France’s youngest-ever PM Gabriel Attal has kept on most of the heavyweights from the outgoing government.

But his cabinet – named on Thursday – also contains some interesting new faces.

Mr Attal’s own former partner Stéphane Séjourné is at foreign affairs, while Sarkozy-era minister Rachida Dati is at culture.

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The cabinet’s profile is clearly more skewed to the right than previous ones under President Emmanuel Macron.

Gone it seems is the careful preservation of left-right balance. Today the only members of the government with a past in the Socialist Party (PS) are Mr Attal himself and Mr Séjourné (though Justice Minister Eric Dupont-Moretti also has been identified with the left in the past).

Among those who came to Mr Macron from the centre-right Republicans (LR) are Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and Defence Minister Sébastien Lecornu – all of whom keep their posts.

To their number is now added 58-year-old Rachida Dati, who rose to fame as a young minister of justice under President Sarkozy in 2007.

Outspoken and petite, Ms Dati is held up more often than she would like as an exemplar of French Republican integration. One of 11 children born to a Moroccan-Algerian couple in Chalon-sur-Saône, she battled her way to the top by force of personality.

Currently, she is mayor of the expensive 7th arrondissement of Paris, which includes most government buildings, and which she has used as a springboard for her avowed ambition to be the next mayor of Paris.

Political insiders were knocked backwards by news of her appointment at culture, because she was not seen as a particular friend of the government. She once said Macronites were all traitors – either from the left or from the right.

Now that she has performed her own mini-betrayal, Ms Dati’s membership of LR has been suspended. But her recruitment is a coup for Mr Attal. She is a familiar face among the French who – in general – admire her chutzpah.

Less familiar and less exciting a personality, but occupying a more important role, is Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné.

Any thumbnail sketch of the 38-year-old is bound to start with the fact that he was for more than five years the partner of Mr Attal.

The rapid rise of France’s youngest PM
In 2017, the two Macron-loyalists were joined by a civil partnership (PACS). Mr Attal is France’s first openly gay PM. Mr Séjourné attended key meetings at the Elysée while Mr Attal as government spokesman was at the heart of policy-making at the prime minister’s office – making them the supreme Macronite power-couple.

Such is the importance attached to the non-reporting of public people’s private lives in France, it was only this week that we learned that their PACS was dissolved in 2022.

Brought up in Madrid and Buenos Aires, Mr Séjourné was an early adopter of Macronism and helped set up the president’s LREM party. He was an Elysée adviser before becoming an MEP in 2019 and heading the centrist bloc in the EU parliament, Renew.

More than his predecessor Catherine Colonna, he will enjoy the confidence of President Macron – which is as well because it is the president who sets foreign policy anyway.

Catherine Vautrin, the 63-year-old president of the greater Reims metropolitan area, takes over as a new super-minister of health and labour. She is another defector from the right, having served as a junior minister under President Chirac.

Some will recall that Ms Vautrin voted against gay marriage in 2013, though she has since said she regretted not seeing how society was changing.

Ms Vautrin is also close to the former president Nicolas Sarkozy. Indeed, there are now three Sarkozy protégés in government: Ms Vautrin, Ms Dati and Mr Darmanin. This has not gone unnoticed. It is also well-known that Mr Macron himself and the 68-year-old Sarkozy have a cordial relationship and talk regularly.