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Updated Jan 10, 2024, 3:06am EST
Europe
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Macron bets on France’s youngest and first openly gay prime minister to boost popularity

Insights from Le Monde, Reuters, and The New York Times


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LUDOVIC MARIN/Pool via REUTERS
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Gabriel Attal, 34, was named France’s new prime minister after predecessor Elisabeth Borne resigned as part of President Emmanuel Macron’s long-anticipated cabinet reshuffle designed to boost the Renaissance Party’s chances in the European Parliament elections this June.

Attal, the former education minister, got his start in politics at 23, and has now become France’s youngest and first openly gay prime minister. Macron is hoping to capitalize on Attal’s widespread popularity amid countrywide discontent over rising living costs, unpopular pension reforms, and divisive immigration policies.

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Charming Attal is seen as ‘Macron 2.0’ but some are less impressed

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Sources:  
IPSOS, The Washington Post, Reuters, Politico EU, Le Figaro

Attal has remained consistently popular over the last few years, according to an IPSOS poll. He is “Macron 2.0,” one Chatham House fellow told the Washington Post, and the president is hoping to benefit from “the popularity, the freshness, the energy, cleverness, and disruption that embodies the bright, young media-darling and quick-witted politician.” However, not all voters are convinced, with one Parisian telling Reuters that while Attal “fits nicely into the frame,” a cabinet reshuffle won’t change much. A writer noted in Le Figaro that Attal’s rise is part of a “never-ending story,” as now there have been four prime ministers governing France in just a span of two years. His appointment also will likely intensify the race to succeed Macron in the 2027 presidential elections, as one Macron ally told Politico that other heavyweight presidential contenders were not too happy to see a young colleague get the top spot in cabinet.

Macron’s popularity has waned and his governing methods have been ‘exhausted’

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Sources:  
Reuters, France24, Financial Times

One French lawmaker compared Attal to “the Macron of 2017” when, at the height of his popularity, Macron became the youngest person ever to lead France. However, the president has become increasingly “isolated and unpopular” after his centrist party lost an absolute majority in the National Assembly. Macron pushed through an unpopular proposal to increase the legal retirement age from 62 to 64 to reduce pension deficits, despite widespread protests, leading to an “unparalleled” strike of more than one million workers in the streets. The passage of a conservative immigration reform bill, which was supported by far-right politician Marine Le Pen, led to further turmoil within his own party. Macron’s tactic of using an override clause to push through unpopular legislation without a vote and then surviving no-confidence votes is an “exhausted” method of governing and is not what the parliament or people want, a political professor told the Financial Times.

Macron’s unpopularity makes far-right more palatable to French voters

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Sources:  
BBC, Reuters, Al Jazeera

Nationwide discontent with Macron has helped Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party gain ground in France, part of a wave of far-right parties surging across Europe in Finland, Italy, and Sweden ahead of the European Parliament elections in June. Though previously viewed by many voters as xenophobic and racist, Le Pen’s party image is becoming more palatable to French citizens, with polls showing that many no longer see the far-right as a threat to democracy. Recent terror attacks, the rise of anti-semitism sparked by the Israel-Hamas war, and economic anxiety make for a “powerful cocktail for the far-right,” said one Sciences Po expert on populism.

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