The Cable

France Has a New Prime Minister (for Now)

France’s new president is still picking at the carcass of one of France’s main political parties.


Emmanuel Macron, France’s freshly inaugurated president, announced his prime minister shortly before taking off to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday. The man of the hour: Edouard Philippe, mayor of Le Havre.

Philippe is not only the head of a town in Normandy, however. He is also a member of les Républicains, France’s major center-right party. Philippe is aligned not to François Fillon, the presidential candidate who spent much of the campaign embroiled in scandal and failed to make the second round, but to Alain Juppé, the mayor of Bordeaux, whom Fillon bested back in the primaries.

Macron’s time in government was actually as minister of the economy in François Hollande’s center-left government. But Macron’s center-right pick confirms what he himself has long maintained — that he straddles the center. Additionally, it should also be noted that the center-left Socialist party received roughly six percent of the votes in the first round of the presidential contest, making the center-right the richer pond in which Macron can fish.

With the pick, Macron is “throwing a line to something like 10, 20, 30 other members of the right, and there are already calls from some members [of the party] to give Macron a hand,” Marc Pierini of Carnegie Europe told Foreign Policy.

And that matters, because Macron is heading into June’s legislative elections with a slate of candidates (roughly half of whom are women, including a female horse-mounted bullfighter and air force pilot who flew in Syria) for a party formed barely a year ago.

Many thought, and think, that Macron’s En Marche has an uphill battle in the legislative elections, given that many people voted for him in the second round not because they liked him or his policies specifically, but because he was not his far-right opponent, Marine Le Pen.

Two things have helped him since then, Pierini said. The first was that Macron won with 66 percent of the vote, which was more than was expected. The second was that his inauguration on Sunday featured “intellectual, very smart speeches” by Macron.

And there is, of course, a third: The selection of Philippe, who will form a cabinet this Tuesday (though how long it is in place will depend on June’s elections), and who may pull from more moderate parts of the center-right party.

“If people make a positive judgement on the appointment of the prime minister,” Pierini said, “depending on the composition of the government, you might have a ‘trust him’ phenomenon,” one in which French voters didn’t just make Macron their president in May, but empower him as such come June.

Photo credit: JOEL SAGET/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a staff writer at Foreign Policy covering ambassadorial and diplomatic affairs in Washington. @emilyctamkin

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