By BARBARA SURK and MASHA MACPHERSON, Associated Press
PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron rearranged his Cabinet on Monday after losing his parliamentary majority, and called on his new government to “stand strong” amid Russia’s war in Ukraine and “transform” the heavily indebted French economy.
The new government includes familiar faces from Macron’s centrist alliance and the center-right, but none from the far-left and far-right parties that are now the main opposition forces in France’s National Assembly.
At a Cabinet meeting after the announcement, Macron urged ministers to “stand strong in the context of a war that has a profound impact on many things. I think it wasn’t sufficiently taken into account in France’s public debate.”
His government plans to present a bill addressing growing public concerns about soaring cost of living, but his opponents say Macron is out of touch with the day-to-day pain of inflation.
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After France spent heavily to help the economy weather pandemic shutdowns and soften the blow of high energy prices worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Macron warned Monday that “progress can rarely be financed with unsupported debt or at least unsustainable debt.”
He said the government would focus on environmental challenges and “great demographic transitions” and work with local officials, companies and citizens to “transform profoundly 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 it’s needed to avoid bankrupting the state in a country with one of the world’s highest life expectancies. Macron’s chief political rivals oppose the plan as threatening France’s social model.
The government reshuffle comes six weeks after Macron appointed Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne to lead a new government coalition at the outset of the president’s second term. Macron — and French presidents before him — had set a rule before the parliamentary vote: Only ministers who retain their seats will remain in government posts.
Three out of Macron’s 15 ministers failed to be reelected and were replaced Monday.
Christophe Bechu is the new environment minister, an important job as the EU pushes for more aggressive emissions cuts, and came under quick criticism from activists who questioned his credentials. Francois Braun is now in charge of the health ministry, a high-profile post as COVID-19 cases spike anew.
In addition, Damien Abad, the minister of policies for the disabled who is under investigation for rape and sexual misconduct, has been replaced by Jean-Christophe Combe, former director general of the French Red Cross.
Allegations of sexual misconduct against Abad emerged just days after Borne, only the second woman in French history to have been appointed prime minister, announced her new government. Abad firmly denies the allegations.
The allegations were particularly embarrassing for the new prime minister and the president, who both claim to be champions of women’s rights and have pledged “zero tolerance” for sexual misconduct.
Two other ministers who have been accused of rape kept their jobs.
Macron’s Together! alliance won the most seats in the National Assembly in the election last month, but fell 44 seats short of a majority in France’s most powerful house of parliament as voters opted for the leftist Nupes coalition and the far-right National Rally of Marine Le Pen.
With the most seats at the National Assembly, his government still has the ability to rule, but only by bargaining with legislators. To prevent the deadlock, Macron’s Renaissance party and allies may try to negotiate on a case-by-case basis with lawmakers from the center-left and from the conservative party.
Barbara Surk reported from Nice.
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