Macron appoints Social Democrat Élisabeth Borne as Prime Minister | International
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The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has appointed his Labor Minister, Élisabeth Borne (Paris, 61 years old), as Prime Minister on Monday after the resignation of Jean Castex (Vic-Fezensac, 56 years old), holder of the position since 2020. Borne, an experienced technocrat identified with the social democratic current of the macronismis the second woman at the head of the Government in the history of France, and the first in 30 years after the brief mandate, less than a year, of the socialist Edith Cresson.
The centrist Macron sends a message of change and another of continuity. The change: after governing with center-right prime ministers, this time he leans to the center-left. And continuity: Borne has been a member of the hard core of the macronism. His appointment hardly signals a shift in style or policy.
Borne is one of the few ministers who has remained in the Government throughout Macron’s first term, re-elected on April 24. In addition to the Ministry of Labor, he has directed during this five-year period those of Transport and Ecology. Trained at the prestigious Polytechnic School, she worked in different ranks of the Administration and in ministries alongside heavyweights of the Socialist Party, such as former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, and the 2007 presidential candidate, Ségolène Royal.
“I am a woman of the left, and social justice and equal opportunities are at the heart of my struggles,” Borne told BFM-TV in February. The new prime minister is affiliated with the small Territories of Progress party, which includes several Social Democrat ministers.
Macron’s previous prime ministers, Castex and Édouard Philippe, came from The Republicans, the historical party of the right. Borne comes from the orbit of the Socialist Party, today at a minimum and integrated into an alliance for the legislative elections on June 12 and 19 under the leadership of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the anti-capitalist and eurosceptic left.
The president was looking for a prime minister with ecological and social sensitivity. Knowledge of the machinery of the State was another requirement. And loyalty: he doesn’t want to be overshadowed. The lack of her: she has never held an elected position.
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Castex postponed his departure for weeks to allow the president to find the person who will have a double mission. First, to lead the campaign for a new majority in the legislative elections. And second, in the event that this candidacy is the majority after these elections, head the Government in the coming years.
“Mr. Jean Castex today presented the resignation of the Government to the President of the Republic, who has accepted it,” the Elysée Palace announced in a statement. “He ensures, together with the members of the Government, the treatment of current affairs until the nomination of a new Government”.
The resignation of Castex’s own will, an effective senior official and without any temptation to overshadow Macron, opened the millimetric choreography of the succession in the Matignon mansion, seat of the head of government. After presenting the resignation to Macron in person this afternoon at the Elysée Palace, seat of the presidency, the successor was announced. Then, the transfer of powers. And in the next few days, the appointment of the new Executive. The prime minister can seek a vote of confidence in the National Assembly, but it is not necessary.
In the system of the French Fifth Republic, the prime minister has an ambiguous role. According to the 1958 Constitution, he “directs the action of the Government”, is “responsible for national defense” and “guarantees the execution of the laws”. He also shares with the Parliament the initiative of the laws. The President of the Republic, for his part, is “the guarantor of national independence, the integrity of the territory and respect for treaties.”
Unlike the president, the prime minister is not elected by universal suffrage: his only voter is the president himself. Hence, his legitimacy is less. And his room for manoeuvre, smaller than that of a British-style prime minister, a German chancellor or a Spanish Prime Minister. In France, more and more the prime minister is in charge of putting into practice the vision of the head of state.
There is one exception: when there is a majority of a different political color in the National Assembly than the president and he is forced to appoint the leader of the opposition as prime minister. So the prime minister, backed by his parliamentary majority, has all the autonomy in domestic policy and the president is left with foreign policy. It is called “cohabitation”. The last time there was a cohabitation was between 1997 and 2002 with the Conservative President Jacques Chirac and the Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.
Castex, as prime minister, has applied Macron’s initiatives. He has not been a leader with an autonomous line but a manager. With a long career in senior administration and in conservative governments, he combined a deep knowledge of the gears of the State with roots in rural France as mayor, between 2008 and 2020, of the municipality of Prada, at the foot of the Catalan Pyrenees. The former prime minister speaks Catalan and Spanish.
In Matignon, he has had to manage the confinements due to the pandemic and the vaccination campaign, in addition to the economic recovery plans and aid to alleviate inflation. It leaves France with an unemployment rate of 7.4%, the lowest level in 15 years, but inflation of 5.5% and growth of 0.25% in the second quarter. In 2021, the public debt rose to 112.9% of GDP, and the budget deficit, to 6.5%.
An advantage of the outgoing prime minister was his lack of political ambition, in contrast to Philippe, his predecessor during the first half of Macron’s first five years. Unlike others, when he shaved each morning, Castex did not see a future president in the mirror. Trained at the elite National School of Administration, he saw himself more as a servant of the State. He had already made it clear that he did not wish to continue.
A paradox of these years has been that the head of government no longer fulfills its traditional function of shield or lightning rod to protect the head of state. Neither Castex nor Philippe managed to prevent criticism and popular discontent from being directed at Macron and not at them.
In July 2020, after his appointment, Castex declared: “And our first and immense ambition will be to reconcile these Frances so different”. The results of the April presidential elections show that the objective has not been met. Macron’s victory was clear, but more than half of the French opted for options to break with the system in the first round and in the second, 13 million French people voted for the extreme right.
In December, during an interview with EL PAÍS in Matignon, Castex explained: “National cohesion is a long-term job. I always try, together with President Macron, to unite, to federate the populations, the territories, and especially those that are in difficulty. And I firmly condemn those who call for the exclusion and hatred of the other. France is not that.
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