French President Emmanuel Macron has chosen Gabriel Attal, the 34-year-old Education Minister, as the new prime minister. Attal’s appointment comes as Macron to breathe new life into his presidency ahead of the European elections and challenges posed by a fractured parliament.
This decision makes Attal the youngest ever French prime minister and the first openly gay individual to hold this position.
Macron’s selection of Attal, previously the Education Minister and a close ally, shows a strategy at revitalizing his presidency as he faces European elections later this year.
Gabriel Attal’s popularity, political acumen, and communication skills position him as a choice to address the challenges that have marked Macron’s second term.
The surprising selection of Attal, who was just gaining momentum as the Education Minister, underlines Macron injecting fresh energy into his government.
Unlike other experienced candidates passed over for the position, such as Bruno Le Maire, Attal’s charisma is seen as a catalyst for overcoming a 10-point polling gap with Marine Le Pen‘s far-right party in the upcoming European elections.
Gabriel Attal prominence began in 2017 when he, along with a new wave of lawmakers, entered office under Macron’s centrist and pro-business platform.
His trajectory within Macron’s government has been steady, from a low ranking official in the education ministry in 2018 to becoming the government spokesman in 2020, then Budget Minister in 2022, and finally the Education Minister in July 2023.
Gabriel Attal’s popularity has surged, with a 14-point increase in approval ratings over five months, reaching 40%, making him the most popular politician in France according to Ipsos.
His appeal is expected to play a role in closing the polling gap with far-right leader Jordan Bardella in the upcoming European elections.
While Attal’s appointment shows Macron’s focus on a political reset, it may not directly address his main challenge, the lack of a parliamentary majority.
Political analyst Chloé Morin warns that Macron must navigate the need to strike deals with opposition parties to advance his reform agenda, given the absence of a clear majority in parliament.
During Borne’s tenure, the government faced hurdles in building a coalition with opposition MPs. Despite successfully implementing policy goals, including the retirement age, Borne’s ratings plummeted to near all-time lows at 23%. Macron’s approval ratings, only slightly better at 27%.
Gabriel Attal’s appointment shows a shift towards a more political approach compared to Borne’s technocratic style.
Macron appears to be banking on Attal’s popularity prowess to turn the page on the challenges marked by parliamentary battles over immigration and an unpopular pensions reform in the past year. The new Prime Minister’s immediate priorities will include selecting his cabinet societal issues.
Analysts predict a shift away from economic reforms towards policies addressing social concerns, such as euthanasia and abortion rights, showing Macron to respond to popular anxieties about French democracy, crime, and antisocial behavior.
As Macron and Attal on this new phase, there is a recognition of the need for a clear sense of purpose for the remainder of Macron’s term.
The reshuffle is seen to reinvigorate Macron’s centrist presidency and prevent him from becoming a lame duck leader.
The politics in France, by the growing influence of the far-right by a parliament, requires maneuvering. Attal’s appointment, while applauded for his popularity, questions about his ability to establish authority over heavyweight ministers like Gérald Darmanin and Bruno Le Maire.
The upcoming European elections will be as a litmus test for Macron’s Renaissance party, as it competes against the far-right National Rally led by Marine Le Pen.
Gabriel Attal’s role in leading the government into these elections underlines the stakes involved in Macron’s political reset.