PARIS, Jan 9 (Reuters) – Gabriel Attal promised to be bold and act fast to help the middle class weather the rising cost of living, after President Emmanuel Macron, seeking to breathe new life into his second term, on Tuesday made him France’s youngest ever prime minister.
The appointment of Attal, 34, a popular and media-savvy rising star of French politics, signals a desire by Macron to move beyond divisive reforms and improve his centrist party’s chances in European Parliament elections in June.
“Dear @GabrielAttal, I know I can count on your energy and your commitment to implement the project of revitalisation and regeneration that I announced,” Macron wrote on social media after appointing Attal, a close ally and former minister and government spokesman.
Widespread public discontent over surging living costs and last year’s contested pension reform have seriously hit Macron’s ratings, and his chances in the EU ballot, where his party trails badly behind Marine Le Pen’s far-right.
“I’m well aware of the context in which I take on this job,” Attal said.
“Too many French doubt our country, doubt themselves or our future. I think in particular of the middle class … who get up every morning to go to work … and sometimes can’t make ends meet,” he said, promising to work to “control our destiny and free up France’s potential”.
Shorn of a working majority in parliament, Macron has battled to push through his second-term reform agenda, and is now set to focus on more consensual objectives such as aiming to reach full employment.
Attal has polled as one of France’s most popular politicians in recent months. A Macron loyalist, he became a household name as government spokesman during the COVID pandemic and earned a reputation as a smooth communicator.
Attal applauds as chief of staff of outgoing Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne Jean-Denis Combrexelle and his chief of staff at the education ministry Fanny Anor look on at the end of the handover ceremony at the Hotel Matignon in Paris, France January 9, 2024. Emmanuel Dunand/Pool via REUTERS
Macron, 46, and Attal have a combined age just below that of Joe Biden, who is running for a second term in this year’s U.S. presidential election.
“The youngest president in (France’s) history is appointing the youngest prime minister in (France’s) history. I want to see it as a symbol of audacity,” said Attal, who is also the country’s first openly gay prime minister.
Attal replaces Elisabeth Borne, 62, only the second woman to hold the prime minister role in France. A dutiful and hard-working technocrat, her year and a half in office was marked by months of protests over the pension overhaul and riots over the police shooting of a teenager of north African descent.
Macron and Attal may take several days to name a new government. An Elysee aide said the usual Wednesday cabinet meeting was unlikely this week.
In recent weeks Macron, who has struggled to deal with a more turbulent parliament since being reelected in 2022, had signalled that it was time for change.
Some voters seemed to welcome that.
“I think it’s very good to have a young person .. because it’s a different concept, it’s more dynamic,” said 81-year-old retiree Remi Blondel.
However others were sceptical, with opponents – and some voters – saying not much would change, as Macron takes on the bulk of decision-making himself.
“What can the French hope for from this fourth Prime Minister and this fifth government in seven years? Nothing,” said Le Pen.
Attal is “young” and “fits nicely into the frame. But beyond that what does the reshuffle change for us? Personally, not much,” Parisian Sophie Varillon said.
MP Patrick Vignal, who belongs to Macron’s Renaissance party, praised Attal, who he said was “a bit like the Macron of 2017”, referring to the point at which the President first took office as the youngest leader in modern French history, at the time a popular figure among voters.
Attal “is clear, he has authority”, Vignal said.
The reshuffle is likely to intensify the race in Macron’s camp to succeed him in the next presidential election in 2027, with former prime minister Edouard Philippe, Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire all seen as potential candidates – alongside Attal.