Gabriel Attal becomes France’s youngest prime minister as Macron seeks reset

French president betting that surprise choice will turn the page on difficult period that included rows over immigration and pensions

French president Emmanuel Macron has promoted his popular 34-year-old education minister Gabriel Attal to prime minister as he seeks to reboot a second term hindered by a fractured parliament.

The Élysée Palace confirmed the choice in a statement on Tuesday, adding that Mr Attal would now select his cabinet.

Mr Attal will be the youngest-ever French prime minister and the first gay one, with a distinctly more political edge than the technocratic Élisabeth Borne, who resigned on Monday and was only the second woman to hold the post.

In a handover ceremony in the courtyard of Matignon, the prime minister’s residence, Mr Attal vowed to advance Mr Macron’s agenda of “maintaining control of France’s destiny and unleashing its potential”, including by “continuing to transform the economy”.


Mr Attal is a surprise choice given that he was recently appointed as education minister and is less experienced than other candidates who were passed over, such as veteran finance minister Bruno Le Maire and former agriculture minister Julien Denormandie.

Mr Macron appears to be betting that Attal’s charisma will turn the page on a difficult stretch marked by parliamentary battles over immigration and an unpopular pensions reform last year. Mr Attal is also expected to help Mr Macron close the 10-point polling gap that has opened up with Marine Le Pen’s far-right party for upcoming European elections.

But author and political analyst Chloé Morin warned that naming Mr Attal would not fix Mr Macron’s biggest problem, which is that he no longer has a parliamentary majority, so must strike deals with opposition parties to enact his reform agenda.

“Attal is the most popular minister in the government, and the epitome of a generation that came to power thanks to Emmanuel Macron,” Ms Morin said.

She added that Mr Attal was “the best opponent” Mr Macron had in his camp to face off with Jordan Bardella, the 28-year-old head of the far-right Rassemblement National who is leading the party’s list for the European elections.

After being appointed in 2022, Ms Borne was unable to build a broader coalition with opposition MPs, but she managed to deliver on Mr Macron’s main policy goals last year, such as raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 despite months of street protests.

She often resorted to a special constitutional power known as 49.3 to over-rule lawmakers to pass legislation and budgets – using it 23 times in 18 months, the second-most frequent usage of any prime minister.

Ms Borne’s ratings dropped to near all-time lows of 23 per cent, while Mr Macron’s are scarcely better at 27 per cent. Mr Attal, however, has climbed 14 points in five months to reach an approval rating of 40 per cent, making him the most popular politician in France, according to Ipsos.

Once a member of the Socialist Party, Mr Attal was part of the first wave of lawmakers who swept into office after Mr Macron was elected president in 2017 on a centrist, pro-business platform. He has risen through the ranks steadily since, after getting a first job in Mr Macron’s government as a low-ranking official in the education ministry in 2018.

His profile rose in the highly visible post of government spokesman in 2020, where he would appear at a weekly news conference. He then became budget minister in 2022 and education minister in July 2023.

At the head of the ministry overseeing 900,000 teachers and an annual budget of about €80 billion, Mr Attal called for a “shock of knowledge” to improve educational outcomes that have deteriorated. But given that he is leaving the role after only five months, the job remains unfinished.

Mr Macron has promised to focus on “rearming” the country and its public services for the remaining three years of his term. Hitting full employment remains a priority, as does blunting the rise of Ms Le Pen’s far-right movement.

“I know I can count on your energy and engagement to enact the project of renewal that I have announced,” the president said in a social media post addressed to Mr Attal.

Mujtaba Rahman, analyst at Eurasia group, predicted a shift away from economic reforms to focus more on education and social issues, such as an upcoming law on euthanasia and enshrining abortion rights in the constitution.

“With his main reforms passed, Macron will push for policies that will be more societal and atmospheric, and probably less divisive,” he said. “They will try to respond to popular anxieties about French democracy, crime, and antisocial behaviour.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024