French government resigns ahead of cabinet reshuffle

ParisUpdated: Jul 03, 2020, 03:58 PM IST
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Edouard Philippe. Photograph:(Reuters)

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Prime Minister Edouard Philippe would be leaving his job after serving Macron since the president came to power in 2017 elections.

The French government resigned on Friday ahead of a cabinet reshuffle that President Emmanuel Macron says will set out a "new course" as the country grapples with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

A government source confirmed that Prime Minister Edouard Philippe would be leaving his job after serving Macron since the president came to power in 2017 elections.

However, there was still no firm clue over who a successor might be, with the replacement also facing the task of rescuing the fortunes of the ruling party following a stinging defeat in local elections at the weekend.

Macron, who has pursued ambitious economic reforms since coming to office in 2017, has already admitted that the recession caused by the health crisis would require the government to shift tack.

In an interview with regional newspapers published late Thursday, Macron said France must prepare for a "very difficult" economic crisis, "so we have to chart a new course."

"I see this based on an economic, social, environmental and cultural reconstruction," he said. "Behind this, there will be a new team."

An Elysee Palace official told AFP that a new prime minister would be named "in the coming hours," and possibly the new cabinet cast as well.

Sources later confirmed that Philippe would not be re-nominated for the post he has held for the past three years, pushing through a series of controversial overhauls that sparked massive strikes as well as the fierce "yellow vest" anti-government revolt.

Speculation that Philippe was on the way out mounted this week after Macron's centrist party was routed in municipal elections last Sunday and Greens took control of several major cities.

Philippe, a right-wing politician who never joined Macron's Republic on the Move party, easily won his bid to become mayor of Le Havre.

But while Philippe's approval ratings have surged over his handling of the coronavirus crisis, Macron was widely expected to try to burnish his social justice credentials with a more centrist or leftwing premier.

"A new phase is opening, with new talents and new methods for governing," the Elysee official said Friday.

At a meeting Thursday, Macron and Philippe "agreed on the need for a new government to embody a new phase for this term," the source said.

Press reports have suggested that possible replacements could include defence minister Florence Parly or foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, both Socialists before joining Macron's team.

Other names being floated are those of Valerie Pecresse, president of the Ile-de-France region encompassing Paris, or Jean Castex, who is piloting the government's cautious lifting of its coronavirus restrictions.

But analysts say Macron has a thin bench of potential replacements, not least because his young party has failed to produce any standouts from its parliamentary ranks -- meaning he could tap someone relatively unknown to the public.

Among other officials who could be replaced is interior minister Christophe Castaner, who has been assailed by critics over the failure to contain the rioting and looting that marred the "yellow vest" protests of 2018-2019.

More recently Castaner has drawn the ire of police who say he has failed to support them against renewed claims of violence and racism in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Already since the start of Macron's presidency, a total of 17 ministers have quit the government, most recently Agnes Buzyn, who stepped down as health minister in a doomed bid to wrest the Paris mayor job from Socialist Anne Hidalgo.