Emmanuel Macron finally announces reshuffle in bid to reverse plummeting political fortunes
President Emmanuel Macron of France has appointed a high-profile loyalist as interior minister in a reshuffle intended to breathe new life into his cabinet after a string of gaffes and political setbacks.
Christophe Castaner, 52, steps down as head of Mr Macron’s party La Republique en Marche (Republic on the Move) to take up the post.
The job had been vacated by Gérard Collomb who quit two weeks previously to run for mayor of the city of Lyon in a blow to the centrist French president.
Four other government members were replaced in the reshuffle, including the culture and agriculture ministers, seen as weak links in the cabinet.
The heavyweight finance and foreign affairs ministers retain their positions while Marlène Schiappa, the gender equality minister, and Jean-Michel Blanquer, the education minister, have been granted wider remits.
Promising a "renewed, dynamic team with a second wind", Mr Macron said he would continue reforming with the same "intensity" and "neither a swing nor a change in direction".
But rivals said the much-touted changes amounted to a damp squib. "This is more like a balloon bursting than a second wind," said Christian Jacob, parliamentary leader of the centre-right Republicans.
The reshuffle proved a conundrum for Mr Macron, who kept France in the dark for two weeks over his move.
It came after a rocky start to the summer recess for the 40-year old leader, who saw his popularity slump after a scandal involving his Elysée security chief, Alexandre Benalla, and the resignation of his star environment minister, Nicolas Hulot – a former wildlife TV presenter.
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After driving through a string of reforms, growth figures have slowed and Mr Macron has come under fire for brash off-the-cuff comments that, polls suggest, have fuelled French impressions that he is “arrogant”.
He has even come in for a drubbing from his wife Brigitte, according to Le Parisien, which cited Elysée sources as saying the presidential walls “shook” this summer over their noisy rows.
The newspaper reported that she was so annoyed at his inability to fire his ex-security aide more promptly that she left Paris for their holiday home in Le Touquet to cool down.
One of the rare Macron lieutenants who is a confident performer in the media, Mr Castaner is a southerner who offers a provincial touch away from the Parisian political elite but he has little experience in security and policing. His number two will be the current head of France’s domestic intelligence agency, Laurent Nunez.
In an apparent bid to re-gild his environmental credentials, Mr Macron gave his new environment minister François de Rugy, more weight in the cabinet hierarchy, effectively making his ministry the government’s number two.
The president has promised to keep up the pace of reform with an upcoming overhaul of unemployment benefits and the pensions systems.
But plunging domestic approval ratings are hampering his efforts to take a leading role in Europe, bolster the euro area and lead the charge against nationalist forces from Italy to Hungary.
In a televised address on Tuesday night, Mr Macron said: "I hear the criticism".
But he insisted a strong France could influence the course of Europe, which he warned was "flipping almost everywhere towards extremes and is once again giving in to nationalism".