Macron rewards loyalty in smallest possible cabinet reshuffle

Appointments fall short of dramatic changes that some in French president’s camp had urged

Emmanuel Macron with National Assembly speaker François de Rugy. Mr Macron replaced ecology minister Nicolas Hulot with Mr de Rugy on Tuesday. Photograph: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

Emmanuel Macron with National Assembly speaker François de Rugy. Mr Macron replaced ecology minister Nicolas Hulot with Mr de Rugy on Tuesday. Photograph: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

 

French president Emmanuel Macron chose continuity and loyalty over change when he ordered the smallest possible cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday, replacing the popular ecology minister, Nicolas Hulot, with François de Rugy, the speaker of the National Assembly.

Sports minister Laura Flessel, an Olympic gold medallist in fencing, was replaced by the swimming champion Roxana Maracineanu. Ms Flessel said she resigned “for personal reasons”. Two investigative media, the Canard enchaîné and Mediapart, later reported that Flessel had “tax problems”.

Mr de Rugy’s appointment fell short of the dramatic change of method and direction that some in the president’s own camp had called for.

Mr Hulot resigned on August 28th, denouncing the timidity of Mr Macron’s environmental policy and the influence of lobbyists on his administration.

Celebrities

A petition signed by 200 celebrities, published in Tuesday’s Le Monde, warned that “all political action that does not make the battle against this cataclysm [global warming] its first priority will no longer be credible”.

“I hope my resignation will not have been in vain, that it will jolt society,” Mr Hulot told Europe 1 radio on Monday night.

Like Mr Hulot, Mr de Rugy has a background as an environmentalist. But his self-proclaimed stance as a “reformist ecologist” makes him more “Macron-compatible” than Mr Hulot. In 2015, Mr de Rugy published a book titled “Ecology or left-wing politics – one must chose!” Denouncing the “leftist drift” of Europe Écologie Les Verts, Mr de Rugy left EELV after more than 25 years in the party and its predecessor, the Greens.

Mr de Rugy appeared to campaign for Mr Hulot’s job in a posting on his Facebook page on the day of Mr Hulot’s resignation. “I know from experience . . . that it’s one of the most difficult ministerial jobs,” he wrote. France’s first minister of the environment, Robert Poujade, dubbed the position the “Ministry of the Impossible” in a 1975 book. The name stuck.

Broke promise

Mr de Rugy (44) was a deputy mayor of Nantes at the age of 27 and a deputy in the National Assembly at 33. After winning only 3.81 per cent of votes in the 2017 socialist primary, Mr de Rugy broke his promise to support the socialist candidate Benoit Hamon and instead joined Mr Macron’s En Marche! movement. He was an En Marche! candidate in the June 2017 legislative election. Mr Macron’s majority chose him to lead the assembly.

Richard Ferrand, another Macron loyalist and the present En Marche! group leader, is favoured to replace Mr de Rugy as speaker of the assembly. Mr Ferrand has been embroiled in a financial scandal in Brittany.

As a presidential candidate, Mr de Rugy promised the abandonment of nuclear power and total reliance on renewable energies by 2050.

Mr Hulot called French dependence on nuclear power “stubborn, pointless folly”. Mr de Rugy, like Mr Hulot, will face an uphill battle against a president, prime minister and finance minister who favour nuclear energy.