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Following the appointment of France’s new Prime Minister today, Open Europe’s Aarti Shankar assesses what this tells us about President Macron’s governance strategy.
15 May 2017
After a long suspense, France’s new Prime Minister was today named as Édouard Philippe. Philippe, the 46 year old Mayor of Le Havre, is a member of the centre-right Les Républicains (LR) party. He is also a long-standing supporter of Alain Juppé, the strongly centre-aligned Republican former Prime Minister.
Philippe’s nomination is symbolically very important to the Macron presidency. After receiving consistent endorsements from heavyweight Socialists throughout his campaign – notably former Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Minister of Defence Jean-Yves Le Drian – his decision to select a Prime Minister from LR is a clear effort to rebalance his base towards the centre-right.
Philippe’s early political sympathies were for the Socialist Party and particularly for Michel Rocard – Prime Minister of social democratic views under François Mitterrand, as well as the political mentor of Manuel Valls and also admired by Macron himself.
After a very short stint as a Socialist member, Philippe aligned himself more closely with the political right. He worked alongside Alain Juppé to rebrand the centre-right party as Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) – later again renamed Les Républicains. In 2007, while Juppé was Minister for Ecology and Sustainable Development, Philippe served as his special advisor.
In 2010, Philippe was elected Mayor of Le Havre in Normandy, northern France. In 2012, he was elected to the National Assembly.
When Juppé stood for nomination in the centre-right presidential primaries last year, Philippe served as his spokesperson. After Juppé lost the primary elections, Philippe supported centre-right nominee François Fillon. However, following Fillon’s scandal, Philippe withdrew his support.
While his nomination was somewhat anticipated, today’s announcement does offer a little insight into the President’s strategy for governance.
Firstly, Macron seems to place significant importance on symbolism. Philippe fulfils a number of Macron’s key criteria – he is young, centre-aligned, and a relatively new face to the French establishment (although, his close relationship with a former Prime Minister does cause some doubt over his suitability for a candidate of ‘renewal’). However, it is notable that he did not appoint a woman, as he previously hinted he would.
Secondly, Macron’s aim to broaden the political centre in France will come at the expense of the traditional parties. Prime Minister Philippe, whose task in the immediate future will be to construct a parliamentary majority in June legislative elections, could be well-placed to encourage Republican candidates to form a majority under Macron’s ‘République en marche’ banner. Indeed, Macron’s decision not to field candidates against well-known Republican figures, including former ministers Bruno Le Maire and Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, appears quite calculated. However, he should proceed cautiously – an attempt to manufacture a grand-coalition of support with traditional parties could play to Marine Le Pen’s hand. The leader of the Front National will likely capitalise on any indication that Macron is another candidate of the establishment.
Ultimately, however, we must wait until tomorrow’s ministerial appointments to understand a little more about how Macron intends to govern. Some speculation is brewing, given the long-drawn out suspense ahead of Philippe’s announcement today, that last-minute negotiations took place to ensure key Republican figures were secured government posts. If this is the case, it will only be a taste of the balancing act to come under President Macron.