Emmanuel Macron’s reshuffled cabinet includes two unexpected appointments

Former TCD student Clément Beaune reappointed as minister for European affairs

French president Emmanuel Macron announced his reshuffled cabinet on Friday afternoon, with a new foreign minister part of the line-up behind France's first woman prime minister in 30 years.

The two most inspired and unexpected appointments to the new government are Catherine Colonna, a career diplomat of great experience and talent, as minister for foreign affairs and the third-ranking cabinet member, and the choice of historian Pap Ndiaye as minister for education.

Ms Colonna was the finest spokesperson for the Élysée in living memory, under former president Jacques Chirac. She went on to occupy the post of minister for European affairs as well as acting as ambassador to Rome, to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and finally to London, where she became an expert on the Northern Ireland protocol.

Clément Beaune, the minister for European Affairs and a friend of Ireland since his studies at Trinity College Dublin, has been reappointed to the same post, under Ms Colonna's authority.

As education minister, Mr Ndiaye will utilise the single largest budget, 9 per cent of this year’s €883 billion government spending, compared with 7 per cent for defence.

Mr Macron has sent a strong signal to ethnic minorities by appointing Mr Ndiaye to such an important position. Mr Ndiaye's Senegalese father, Tidiane, was the first sub-Saharan African to qualify as an engineer at the prestigious École nationale des ponts et chaussées. He returned to Senegal when Pap was three years old, leaving his French wife Simone to raise Pap and his sister Marie, a celebrated novelist.

Mr Ndiaye has described himself as "a pure product of republican meritocracy". He grew up in the Paris banlieue and from 1991 until 1996 studied on a scholarship at the University of Virginia, where he says he discovered his own blackness. On returning to France, he specialised in black studies. Last year, he was appointed director of the Museum of History and Immigration at the Palais de la Porte Dorée.

Few surprises

Apart from Ms Colonna and Mr Ndiaye, there were few surprises in the new government. Sixteen outgoing ministers were assigned portfolios in the new, 27-member cabinet, led by prime minister Élisabeth Borne, who was named on Monday. The cabinet approaches gender parity, with 13 women and 14 men.

Most of the “social” posts, including health and labour, went to former Socialists, while “regalian” positions having to do with sovereign powers, such as the ministries of the interior and defence, were filled by politicians from the right.

Ranking order mattered almost as much as who obtained what position. Bruno Le Maire, who remains at the ministry of finance, was ranked first. Gérald Darmanin, a hardliner on immigration, retained his job as interior minister and was ranked second.

Mr Le Maire and Mr Darmanin both left the conservative party Les Républicains (LR) to join the previous Macron government. A third prominent member of LR, Damien Abad, was appointed minister in charge of the elderly and people with disabilities, after resigning from LR's leadership on Thursday. Mr Abad suffers from arthrogryposis, a congenital disease which shortens and twists the limbs.

A surprise nomination was the renewal of Éric Dupond-Moretti’s mandate as justice minister. Mr Dupond-Moretti, a prominent trial lawyer, is the most vociferous cabinet minister and is on poor terms with French magistrates. By reappointing him, Mr Macron showed his determination to reform the justice system, despite fierce resistance from the magistrates’ corps.

The new cabinet also contains numerous younger politicians from the "Macron generation". Since 2017, power in France has been concentrated at the Élysée. However, it has in a sense been decentralised as former Macron advisers, including Mr Beaune and now Rima Abdul Malak, move into cabinet positions. Ms Abdul Malak, Mr Macron's adviser for cultural affairs, has been appointed minister for culture.