France’s Emmanuel Macron, the Fifth Republic’s youngest president, has just appointed its youngest prime minister, 34-year-old Gabriel Attal. The former socialist turned 2017 Macronista campaigner has had a meteoric rise through government ranks to education minister only six months ago. Attal’s remarkable communication skills, ability to think on his feet and interpret what voters wish to hear has made him Macron’s most popular minister.
But this is a further desperate roll of the dice for a beleaguered Macron. The French leader has been deprived of a working majority since the 2022 legislative elections and forced to get his legislation by constitutional sleight of hand avoiding parliamentary votes 23 times. That legislation on pension and social reform has been broadly unpopular generating widespread strikes, followed last July by the worst riots for over fifty years deep into the sinews of provincial France, la France profonde. Macron’s party trails Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National by ten points in opinion polls and is braced for a trouncing in the June European elections. For the Europhile Macron, this would be a humiliation too far. Hence the sacking of the dutiful, but dour, technocrat PM Élisabeth Borne and replacement by the boy-wonder Attal. But the public are unlikely to be fooled by such pyrotechnics.
A critical question is whether Attal’s appointment leads to Macron shifting further to the right. Both started on the left, but have slid gently rightwards shadowing the French public at one step removed. Marine Le Pen recently stated over the highly controversial new immigration legislation – hijacked by the right to render it far more restrictive – that it was her Rassemblement national party that was setting the national agenda. There is no doubt that in appointing Attal, Macron has chosen a young dynamic champion to rival the even younger, effective and popular Jordan Bardella, who currently presides the RN, heads its European election list and who is a possible contender for the 2027 presidentials.
The risk Macron is taking here is an admission of failure by going against all his prime ministerial appointments thus far.