By Barbara Surk and Masha McPherson, Associated Press
PARIS (AP) – French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday reshuffled his cabinet after losing his parliamentary majority and called on his new government to “stand firm” in the war in Ukraine and “transform” the heavily indebted French economy.
The new government includes well-known faces from Macron’s moderate coalition and the center-right party, but none of the far-left and far-right parties, which are now the main opposition forces in the French National Assembly.
At the cabinet meeting after the announcement, Macron urged ministers to “stand firm in the context of a war that has a profound effect on many things. I think it was not taken into account enough in the French public debate.”
His government plans to introduce a bill addressing growing public concern about rising living costs, but his opponents say Macron is out of touch with the pain of daily inflation.
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After France spent heavily on Russia’s aggression in Ukraine to help the economy weather the weather epidemic shutdown and soften the push for higher energy prices, Macron warned on Monday that “progress can hardly be financed with unsupported debt or at least sustainable debt.”
He said the government would focus on environmental challenges and “great demographic change” and work with local officials, companies and citizens to “deeply transform our collective action”.
One of Macron’s most controversial plans is to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 or 65. His government argues that it is necessary to prevent the state from going bankrupt in a country with the highest life expectancy in the world. Macron’s main political rivals oppose the plan, threatening France’s social model.
The reshuffle comes six weeks after Macron appointed Prime Minister Elizabeth Bourne to lead a new coalition government at the start of the president’s second term. Macron – and earlier French presidents – set a rule before the parliamentary vote: only ministers who held their seats would hold public office.
Three of Macron’s 15 ministers failed to be re-elected and were replaced on Monday.
Christoph Bechu is the new environment minister, an important task because the EU is pushing for more aggressive emissions reduction and is facing rapid criticism from staff who question his credentials. Francois Brown is now in charge of the Ministry of Health, a high-profile post since the COVID-19 case has resurfaced.
Also, Damien Abad, the Minister for Policy for Persons with Disabilities under investigation for rape and sexual misconduct, has been replaced by Jean-Christophe Combe, the former director general of the French Red Cross.
Allegations of sexual misconduct against Abad surfaced just days after Bourne, the second woman in French history to become prime minister, announced her new government. Abad strongly denies the allegations.
The allegations were particularly embarrassing for the new prime minister and president, who both claim to be champions of women’s rights and have promised “zero tolerance” for sexual misconduct.
Two more ministers accused of rape have been fired.
Macron together! The coalition won the most seats in the National Assembly last month, but fell 44 seats short of a majority in France’s most powerful house of parliament as voters chose the far-right National Assembly of the left-wing Nupes Alliance and Marine Le Pen.
With the largest number of seats in the National Assembly, his government still has the power to rule, but only through bargaining with legislators. To prevent a stalemate, Macron’s Renaissance Party and allies could try to negotiate on a case-by-case basis with center-left and conservative party lawmakers.
Barbara Surk reports from Nice.
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