Emmanuel Macron has begun the new year by replacing one Socialist prime minister with another. Out goes Elisabeth Borne and in comes Gabriel Attal, who at 34 is almost half as young as his 62-year-old predecessor. Macron hopes that Attal will provide his ailing presidency with some youthful vigour after the disastrous 20 months of Borne’s premiership. The arch technocrat wasn’t Macron’s first pick for the choice of PM in May 2022, but the left-wing members of his party made it known that his first choice, Catherine Vautrin, was unacceptable on account of her conservatism. So Borne got the job, but proved inadequate and uninspiring.
As Le Figaro put it, her government was ‘chaotic, abrasive and sometimes explosive’, and she herself earned the nickname ‘Madame 49.3’. This was on account of the number of times she forced through unpopular bills by using clause 49.3 of the constitution, which permits government to push through legislation without putting it to a parliamentary vote. Borne resorted to this undemocratic measure 23 times in 20 months; few are sorry to see her go.
Will Attal change the dangerous drift of the Macron administration? Le Figaro thinks not: ‘Changing one face at the top does nothing to change the overall picture,’ they remarked. This scepticism is shared by many on the left. Interviewed on television on Monday night before Borne’s successor had been named, the MEP Raphaël Glucksmann joked that he already knew who it was: ‘It’s Emmanuel Macron! And the foreign minister will also be Emmanuel Macron, as will the defence minister and the culture minister’.
Attal is Macron’s fourth PM is under seven years. The first, Edouard Philippe, was dismissed in 2020 because he had become too popular for Macron’s taste; next was the spectacularly dull Jean Castex, who lasted 22 months and then came Borne.
Philippe is expected to run for the 2027 presidency and so is the equally ambitious Attal.