New French government characterised by youth, centrism and loyalty to Hollande

Former Rothschild banker replaces left-wing rebel Montebourg

French president François:  has gone from saying ‘finance is the enemy’ during the 2012 presidential campaign to espousing supply-side economics. Photograph: Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

French president François: has gone from saying ‘finance is the enemy’ during the 2012 presidential campaign to espousing supply-side economics. Photograph: Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

Wed, Aug 27, 2014, 01:00

France’s rebel economy minister Arnaud Montebourg was replaced yesterday in the new government by Emmanuel Macron (36), the outgoing deputy secretary general of the Élysée and a former banker at the Banque Rothschild.

Mr Macron’s appointment reconfirms Mr Macron is considered the architect of the “pact of competiveness” and the “pact of responsbility,” the business-friendly mainstays of Mr Hollande’s economic policy.

As the economic daily Les Échos noted, the government crisis created by Mr Montebourg’s rejection of what he considered to be French austerity policies “will have at least led to a clear economic line.”

Mr Macron’s appointment was characteristic of the promotion of newer, younger and loyal faces from the centre in the third government of Mr Hollande’s presidency. Women and ethnic minorities were also favoured.

Women ministers

The Franco-Moroccan outgoing minister for women’s rights, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem (36), was appointed France’s first female minister for education, responsible for the largest government budget and 15.3 million students and educators.

Fleur Pellerin (41), who was a junior minister for foreign trade and tourism, landed the prestigious culture ministry. Ms Pellerin was born in Korea, where she was abandoned in the street as an infant and adopted by a French couple.

Christiane Taubira, the French Guyanese minister of justice whose job was at risk due to her leftist leanings and spats with prime minister Manuel Valls, hung on to her job.

The socialist old-timers and government “heavyweights” Bernard Cazeneuve, Laurent Fabius, Jean-Yves Le Drian, Sebastien Le Foll, Ségolène Royal and Michel Sapin remain in the ministries of the interior, foreign affairs, defence, agriculture, ecology and finance.

The Élysée called the new cabinet “a government of clarity”. Rumours that the greens would return to government proved false. Two green ministers resigned in April in protest at the appointment of Mr Valls, whom they considered too right-wing. Cecile Duflot, who was the green minister for housing, published a book about Mr Hollande, titled From the Inside, Journey in the Land of Disillusionment, on Monday, the day the government collapsed.

“Because he wanted to be everybody’s president, François Hollande ended up nobody’s president,” she wrote. “Because he didn’t want to be a president of the left, he never found his social base or support.”

The political crisis has made clear how isolated Mr Hollande is. When he stood against the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012, Hollande was supported in the run-off by an array of politicians outside the socialist party, including three other presidential candidates, the centrist Francois Bayrou, the leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the green Eva Joly. All have how joined his detractors.

One may question whether it was necessary to dissolve and reform the government just to resolve the “Montebourg problem”. The move raised concerns of political instability like that long seen in Italy. “This is chaos, and no one can be happy about chaos,” said the conservative UMP deputy Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet.

The cabinet reshuffle was initially viewed as an assertion of Mr Hollande’s authority, but it was Mr Valls who insisted on it. Valls built his popularity and reputation as a tough-minded interior minister. He refused to be “Ayrault-ised” like his predecessor Jean-Marc Ayrault, who was unable to prevent repeated disputes among cabinet members in public.

The left-wing newspaper Libération and the right-wing Le Figaro published the same front page headline yesterday: “Crisis of Regime”. French politicians have long debated the possibility of transforming the “monarchical presidency” endowed by Charles de Gaulle on the fifth republic into a sixth republic in which the prime minister and national assembly would have greater powers.

Mr Montebourg’s departure will not end the debate on economic policy. His differences with the executive branch were superficial, and not a few commentators believe he had a point.

“Almost everyone knows now that Arnaud Montebourg’s criticism of European austerity was right,” Laurent Joffrin wrote in Libération. “They are shared . . . by the IMF, several Nobel Prize laureates, the European left, the New York Times and now Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank.”

*This article was amended on August 27th, 2014 to change “finance minister” to “economy minister”.