French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday replaced his foreign minister but maintained other key figures in their posts, in a reshuffle that tilted his cabinet to the right and leaves all the top ministries in the hands of men.
The reshuffle followed the appointment this week of 34-year-old Gabriel Attal as prime minister, a move which Macron hopes will give his presidency new momentum.
The secretary general of Macron’s Renaissance party Stephane Sejourne, 38, was named foreign minister in place of Catherine Colonna, although other key ministers including Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire kept their posts.
With Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu also staying, this leaves all the top ministries in the hands of men, following the departure earlier this week of Elisabeth Borne as prime minister.
Sejourne was in a civil partnership with Attal, France’s first openly gay prime minister, but their relationship is now believed to be over.
Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera, 45, a former French tennis champion who already faces an immense task overseeing the Olympic Games this summer in Paris, will now head a new super ministry combining sports and education, Attal’s former department.
“What I want is action, action, action” and “results, results, results,” Attal told TF1 television, praising the “energy” of his ministers who he said were “committed 200 percent to meet the expectations of the French”.
Attal said he’ll fulfil Macron’s promise to cut taxes for the middle class, though he wouldn’t be tied into a timetable.
The appointments appeared to mark a new shift to the right for Macron’s centrist government.
Eric Ciotti, leader of the Republicans party, announced that Dati would be excluded from the party following her appointment, accusing her of “placing herself outside our political family”.
Mayor of the Paris seventh district since 2008, Dati was in 2021 charged with corruption over consulting services to a subsidiary of Renault-Nissan, charges she has denied.
Attal insisted this posed no problem, pointing to the “presumption of innocence” and praised Dati as a “woman of commitment” who “all her life fought to obtain what she wanted”.
Socialist leader Olivier Faure said on X that rather than promised regeneration the government was marked by “Sarkozy dinosaurs”.
The leader of hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) MPs in parliament, Matilde Panot, said the reshuffle was marked by the “relegation of women”.
Colonna’s departure had been widely expected, with the former ambassador to the UK seen by critics as not being a loud enough voice for French foreign policy at a time of multiple global challenges.
Eyes on EU elections, 2027
When Macron came to power in 2017, his government mixed figures from the right and the left but the new cabinet is prominently sprinkled with right-wing names.
According to French news channel BFM TV, out of the 14 ministers named, 8 were from the right.
Out of 11 ministries in what is a slimmed down cabinet, there are seven male ministers and four female ministers, excluding Attal himself, as well as three junior ministers who are all women.
The appointment of Attal and the reshuffle are seen as crucial for Macron to relaunch his government with an eye to June 2024 European elections where the far right under Marine Le Pen’s protege Jordan Bardella, 28, are leading in the polls.
Cabinet ministers are also keenly aware that Macron cannot stand again in 2027 presidential elections which will represent Le Pen’s best-ever chance to take the Elysee.
Asked about his own presidential ambitions, Attal said “2027 is not the subject, what interests me is 2024.”
French media have said that Attal’s age and relative inexperience means he has to navigate tricky political waters populated by “crocodiles” less than delighted by his appointment.
Le Maire and Darmanin had reportedly objected to Attal’s appointment as France’s youngest prime minister, even though both vigorously denied this.
High-ranking civil servant and former treasury director Emmanuel Moulin, 55, has been named Attal’s chief of staff but the premier is also bringing with him from the education ministry four young special advisors of his generation dubbed “the power rangers” in French media.
In addition, Macron’s party failed to win a majority in parliament after his 2022 re-election, meaning that Attal – like Elisabeth Borne whom he replaces – will have to seek opposition support to pass important pieces of legislation.
“We’ll have to try to work with them,” he told TF1, referring to the opposition.