Who’s the man? The President’s the man.
Since Jean Castex’s nomination as Prime Minister last Friday, everything in the French press has referred to his neutered status as the person who’ll do no more than carry out the President’s bidding. Any (theoretical) bi-polar governance of France is suspended.
The appointment of one Nicolas Revel to run the Prime Ministerial office will ensure no deviation from The Macronite Line. Revel (another in endlessly available, near-indistinguishable Senior State Managers) is (very theoretically) a man of the broad left.
Initially in charge of Paris Socialist Mayor Delanoe’s office, Revel became Deputy Boss of President Hollande’s Presidential operation. And who, at that precise moment, should be Fellow Deputy Boss of President Hollande’s Elysée Palace? One Emmanuel Macron.
It’s a small world after all.
Macron and Revel became good friends. So what should a friend do when he becomes President? He informed newly-appointed Prime Minister Philippe that Revel would run Prime Minister Philippe’s office.
2017: Philippe refused.
2020: Castex accepted.
Poor Castex has already been helped to understand he’s not as free as he possibly thought regarding how his conduct when trying to be Prime Ministerial.
Last Friday, Castex gave his very first post-appointment interview. The 8pm news on commercial TV’s TF1 channel (with far larger audiences than public TV’s France 2) is the traditional go-to spot for politicians wishing to be seen.
Over a bland few minutes of wholly waffly nothings, Castex made one promise only. He said he’d present his Government’s programme (to a probably breathlessly-excited nation) ‘in the middle of next week’. That seemed easy enough.
But, live on telly, dangerously unscripted, Castex must have forgotten to clear things with The Boss.
A couple of days later, the President’s office let it be known that President Macron intended reviving the annual 14 July televised interview. That tradition was dropped by President Sarkozy to mark him out from Chirac. Then revived by Hollande. And of course then dropped by Macron.
But Mr President probably recognises we now need to feel that at least some elements of The New Normal are not jarringly different from The Good Old Normal.
So? Why should Macron’s Bastille Day Elysée chat affect Castex in any way?
Because the Prime Minister obviously can’t put out his political programme before the President’s spoken. Only once we’ve learned the details of The Re-invention of Macron can those charged with delivering Macron’s programme possibly know what they’re supposed to say.
Prime Minister Castex will thus address a disinterested (doubtless dispirited) nation end-July, when those not yet physically on holiday will already be there in spirit.
Apart from messing up the timing of his Address to the Nation (and perhaps trying to nominate Ministers) has Castex done anything else since Friday’s shock appointment?
First Prime Ministerial outing was to a semiconductor factory, X-FAB. Showing that Castex isn’t (initially) being over-nationalist, he chose a German-headquartered company. Must have been a challenge finding a company open on Saturday.
Sunday evening’s event was of significantly higher symbolic value. A surprise visit (perhpas a bit surprising to see an entire absence of masks?) to a police station in the northern Paris suburbs
‘I know [the police] are waiting for action on our part [ie deeds not words]. That will happen. They are also waiting for recognition and support: they have that guaranteed.’ All of which will have made it blindingly clear that former Macron spokesperson, Christophe Castaner (surely the most unloved Interior Minister in many decades) should be looking for packing cases for all his stuff, ‘cos he was moving on out. [Castaner, almost uniquely, succeeded in making himself reviled by police and population alike; though that doesn’t in any way let him claim he must have got the balance right.]
Macron Government 3: Right Turn
The President has moved his Government still further rightwards (right-wing daily Le Figaro entitles their lead story ‘Castex Government: Macron’s way forward is rightwards’).
He ‘sacrificed’ a couple of former close allies who’ve both performed worse than indifferently. We’ve got 17 women and 15 men in the new Government … although several women are in posts at the very foot of the protocol list.
One of those women is former right-wing Minister, Roselyne Bachelot. She was vigorously criticised a decade ago when (as Health Minister) she ordered in 95 million doses of H1N1 flu vaccine which (happily) turned out never to be needed. Unfortunately her wisdom didn’t seem so clever at the time and she was hugely criticised for wasting public money. All that unfortunately led later ministers to being wary of over-stocking. And that contributed to there being no masks for this pandemic. Less wisely, Bachelot strongly supported soon-to-be-imprisoned right-wing candidate Francois Fillon during the last Presidential Election camapign. Latterly she’s been a minor TV star … and she’s been rewarded for haing a personality by being made Culture Minister.
However, it doesn’t look like much of a major upheaval when 11 Ministers (five of them in the biggest posts) remain exactly where they were before.
No change in Education, Defence, Economy and Finance (isn’t it odd that this Ministry is only N° 5 in the order of protocol?), Foreign Affairs (isn’t it diplomatically charming that this Ministry is N° 1 in the order of protocol?), and Health. A former Green, Barbara Pompili, who was a Socialist Government Minister, and ended up in the President’s LREM Party has been put in charge of the Environment portfolio (isn’t it cynical that Environment remains the N° 2 Ministry in the order of protocol?).
Who’s gone from Government? Three big-name casualties:
- Interior Minister Castaner … has been replaced by former Public Accounts Minister Darmanin; he’s a right-winger, and an ex-Sarkozy supporter; he was accused of rape and sexual harassment, the matter was thrown out in 2018 but following an appeal by the victim investigations into the claims have been re-opened
- Justice Minister Belloubet (also subject to considerable criticism: the pension reforms caused the entire legal profession to down gowns for months) has been replaced by near-celebrity, high-profile defence lawyer, Dupond-Moretti, who has spent much of his career attacking the judiciary, especially the ‘Financial Judiciary’, latterly for bugging ex-President Sarkozy’s phones (Dupond-Moretti called them ‘thugs’) which led him to lodge a formal complaint, now withdrawn … the head of the judges’ majority trade union (yes, really) reacted to D-M’s nomination by describing it as ‘a declaration of war against the judiciary’ [D-M also vigorously defended former Socialist Minister Cahuzac accused, and found guilty, of tax fraud and money laundering … D-M remains Cahuzac’s lawyer for his appeal)
- unfortunate Government spokesperson N’Diaye is no longer in post after saying she wanted to step down for ‘personal reasons’: she perhaps felt uncomfortable after countless misspeakings.
Le Figaro points out that ex-President Sarkozy’s name is all over parts of this new Government. They mention that when Castex was nominated PM he immediately rang his former boss, Sarkozy. The latter let it be known he ‘had considerable respect, friendship and even affection’ for Jean Castex. Another subject President Macron and ex-President Sarkozy can muse over during one of their regular gets-together.
Next event: 14 July: Macron 2.0 (maybe).