By Elizabeth Pineau and Michel Rose
PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron named 34-year-old Education Minister Gabriel Attal as his new prime minister on Tuesday, seeking to breathe new life into his second mandate ahead of European parliament elections.
Attal becomes the youngest and first openly gay prime minister in French history.
His nomination will not necessarily lead to any major political shift, but signals a desire by Macron to move beyond last year’s unpopular pension and immigration reforms and improve his centrist party’s chances in the June EU ballot.
“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 platform X, formerly Twitter.
Shorn of a working majority in parliament, Macron has battled to push through a second-term reform agenda that has drifted to the right as he seeks to shore up support amongst conservative voters to counter the growing popularity of the far right.
The president’s ruling party trails far-right leader Marine Le Pen’s party by around eight to ten percentage points in opinion polls.
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.
Attal has polled as one of France’s most popular politicians in recent months. A Macron loyalist, he became a household name in French politics as government spokesman during the COVID pandemic and earned a reputation as a smooth communicator.
CONTINUITY OR CHANGE?
Attal replaces Elisabeth Borne, 62, only the second woman to hold the position in France. A dutiful and hard-working technocrat, her year and a half in office was marked by months of protests over a 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.
However, his opponents and some voters where sceptical.
“By appointing Gabriel Attal… Emmanuel Macron wants to cling to his popularity in opinion polls to alleviate the pain of an interminable end to his reign,” said Jordan Bardella, the 28-year old leader of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party.
Macron called the shots in French politics, said Parisian Sophie Varillon. “What does the reshuffle change for us? Personally, not much,” she added.
But MP Patrick Vignal, who belongs to Macron’s Renaissance party, said Attal is “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.
(Additional reporting by Tassilo Hummel, Ingrid Melander and Piotr Lipinski; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Ed Osmond and Jan Harvey)