France’s new prime minister is the youngest and first openly gay person to hold the position


President Emmanuel Macron appointed a 34-year-old ally as France’s prime minister in a bid to bring fresh impetus to his administration just months ahead of European Parliament elections.

Gabriel Attal, whose latest post was education minister, becomes the first out gay man to head the government in France and the youngest to hold the post in modern history.

A rising star of French politics, he takes on the role after a bruising year for Macron that saw divisive battles over pensions and immigration that tested the president’s ability to push through reforms.

While Macron has more than three years left in his term, he is already looking toward his legacy and is concerned whether he might be succeeded by Marine Le Pen, whom he beat in the two prior presidential runoffs. European elections to be held in June are a test case for the growing popularity of her far-right National Rally. So far, the outlook is grim for Macron, with Le Pen’s party easily outpacing his own in polls of voting intentions.

“Macron badly needs a fresh start,” said Melody Mock-Gruet, a Paris-based expert in parliamentary affairs. “Given the general fatigue regarding Macron at this stage, it’s not even sure a change of prime minister would be enough to make his star shine again.”

The president said in a post on social media platform X that he was counting on Attal’s “energy and commitment to carry out the rearmament and renewal plan that I announced.”

Attal’s popularity with the French has surged since he took over education in July. He reinforced a ban on long, flowing dresses known as abayas in schools, said he would experiment with the use of school uniforms and changed the dates for France’s famed baccalaureate exams to later in the academic year.

Once a member of the Socialist party, he joined Macron’s En Marche movement ahead of the 2017 presidential election, and the two have since kept a close relationship.

Educated at Paris’s prestigious Sciences Po university, he is one of only a few ministers who remained in the cabinet after Macron’s reelection in 2022. As budget minister, he oversaw finance bills that delivered extra spending for households during the energy crisis and a plan to cut down on tax fraud. He also served as the government’s spokesman.

Sluggish growth

The new prime minister has been tasked with forming a cabinet. Key to Macron’s ability to pursue his economic reform agenda, which includes a goal of full employment, will be the choice of finance chief.

While inflation has slowed significantly from its peak and the government expects it to ease below 3% in the first half, sluggish growth may undermine the president’s efforts to create jobs and repair public finances.

Speaking in a New Year’s address to business leaders on Monday, Bruno Le Maire, who’s been finance minister for nearly seven years, said his enthusiasm and commitment have not waned.

“We are at a pivotal moment in the five-year term: what we accomplished with the president of the republic is considerable, what we have left to accomplish is even more important,” he said.

Attal replaces Elisabeth Borne, a former labor, environment and transport minister known for being a technocrat, who struggled to build a coalition to pass legislation in the National Assembly after Macron lost his outright majority in 2022. She had to resort last year to using a constitutional provision to push through Macron’s unpopular retirement reform without a full vote amid months of protests and strikes. In mid-2023, riots and looting followed the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old by a police officer just outside Paris.

A poll this month by Elabe for Les Echos found Attal to be the second-most popular politician in France, with a 39% score, trailing only former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and just ahead of National Rally leader Marine Le Pen. Macron’s approval rating was 27%.

Legislation prevents Macron from running for a third consecutive term in 2027, which has triggered a veiled competition among senior politicians in his camp to try to succeed him.

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