Macron seeks to regain footing with French cabinet reshuffle

French president Emmanuel Macron pictured in a secondary school in Laval, western France, on September 3, 2018, at the start of the school year in France (known as "rentree des classes" in French). / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Ludovic MARIN

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron will reshuffle his cabinet this week after the resignation of his interior minister, as allies press for a broad rejig to draw a line under a tumultuous few months.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe could submit his government’s resignation to Macron as early as Monday, French media reported. Macron would then ask Philippe to form a new government, on which parliament, dominated by Macron’s ruling party, would hold a vote of confidence.

Macron has seen his popularity slump as voters grow frustrated with a leader seen increasingly as arrogant and out of touch, and are impatient with the sluggish pace of economic growth and job creation.

“We need to remain true to our initial project, but we need a breath of fresh air,” Richard Ferrand, speaker of the National Assembly and close ally of Macron told the Journal du Dimanche.

The departure of Gerard Collomb against Macron’s wishes exposed chinks in the armor of a president who has sought to lead with a tight grip on decision-making but who lacks political experience, having never previously held elected office.

Macron and Philippe were due to have lunch together on Monday, a weekly event, after being in “close contact” over the weekend, according to a source in the prime minister’s office.

Officials neither confirmed nor denied that a wide reshuffle was on the cards. A presidency source said nothing was finalised and the reshuffle was still being worked on.

Collomb was the third minister to resign in five weeks, raising questions over the durability of the government, after the resignations of the popular ecology minister Nicolas Hulot and sports minister Laura Flessel.

Particularly damaging to Macron were Collomb’s criticisms that the president displayed a “lack of humility” and that there were few around him who would speak their mind frankly.

A reshuffle presents Macron with a delicate balancing act. While a big rejig covering key posts such as the finance and foreign ministries might deliver a message of renewal, it could also be seized on by opponents as an admission of failure.

Political analysts have also said centrist Macron was likely to want to reshuffle his cabinet – that comprises ministers from the left and right – after next May’s European elections in response to the results of a vote that will come two years into his five-year mandate.

“We need to show more audacity with a big reshuffle, which we should have done as soon as Hulot left,” a lawmaker from the ruling Republic on the Move party told Reuters on condition of anonymity.