PARIS - France’s newly appointed government gets down to work this week facing big challenges, including coronavirus and the economic crisis — not to mention general elections in less than two years.
The new government takes office just over a week after President Emmanuel Macron’s Republic on the Move party fared poorly in the second round of local elections.
Heading it is Prime Minister Jean Castex, a little known former mayor from the Pyrenees. He earned the title of “Mr. Deconfinement” after managing France’s emergence from the coronavirus lockdown. He replaces the popular Edouard Philippe, a possible challenger to Macron in the next election.
“President Macron has one goal: to fight the recession, to transform the country, to be in a better shape than now for the next presidential election,” said Ulysse Gosset, a political commentator for France’s BFMTV.
“The job of the new prime minister is to execute the orders from Macron," added Gosset. "He has to deal with the crisis. And no more. Macron doesn’t want a prime minister who could be a competitor like former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe was.”
Making more waves is the new interior minister, Gerard Darmanin. At 35, he’s the youngest interior minister of France’s Fifth Republic. He takes over at a time when the police force is demoralized and faces allegations of racism and brutality.
Darmanin himself faces a preliminary investigation into a rape accusation, which Macron’s office says didn’t pose an obstacle to his appointment.
Police unions have offered a muted reaction to their new boss. But some feminists protested in front of the Elysee presidential palace.
New Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti is also controversial. He’s earned a reputation as a pugnacious lawyer defending Corsican nationalists, African politicians and Wikileaks founder Julien Assange. One judges union leader slammed his appointment as a “declaration of war” against the judiciary.
Macron’s reshuffled government faces heavy pressure to take environmental action after the Greens Party surged in municipal elections.
The new minister for ecological transition, Barbara Pompili, co-founded an environmental party, and was a former secretary of state for biodiversity. But she isn’t a big name, and she’ll face close scrutiny in how she handles emissions reduction and other green goals.