Gabriel Attal becomes France's youngest prime minister as Macron seeks reset

By Reuters   January 9, 2024 | 06:09 am PT
French President Emmanuel Macron appointed 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.
[Caption] Gabriel Attal poses in his office in Paris during a photo session on September 23, 2020. Photo by AFP

Gabriel Attal poses in his office in Paris during a photo session on Sept. 23, 2020. Photo by AFP

The move will not necessarily lead to any major political shift, but signals a desire for Macron to try to move beyond last year's unpopular pension and immigration reforms and improve his centrist party's chances in the June EU ballot.

Opinion polls show Macron's camp trailing far-right leader Marine Le Pen's party by around eight to ten percentage points.

Attal, a close Macron ally who became a household name as government spokesman during the Covid pandemic, will replace outgoing Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne.

One of the country's most popular politicians in recent opinion polls, Attal has made a name for himself as a savvy minister, at ease on radio shows and in parliament.

"Dear @GabrielAttal, I know I can count on your energy and your commitment to implement the project of revitalisation and regeneration that I announced," said Macron, who at the end of last year said he would announce new political initiatives.

Attal will be France's youngest prime minister and the first to be openly gay.

He and Macron have a combined age just below that of Joe Biden, who is running for a second mandate in this year's U.S. presidential election.

Macron has struggled to deal with a more turbulent parliament since losing his absolute majority shortly after being reelected in 2022.

"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 Le Pen's National Rally party.

"Instead, he risks taking the short-lived Education Minister with him in his fall."

Other opposition leaders were quick to say they did not expect much from the change in prime minister, with Macron himself taking on much of the decision-making.

"Elisabeth Borne, Gabriel Attal or someone else, I don't care, it will just be the same policies," Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure told France Inter radio.

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.

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