This Paris Life
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Gabriel Attal named Prime Minister.
Sometimes, little phrases slipped into a conversation for no reason come to make sense months later. This visitor to Emmanuel Macron’s gilded presidential lounge last September is stunned when he recalls the conversation at the time. The scene took place a few days after Gérald Darmanin’s thunderous political comeback in Tourcoing (Nord), where, on the orders of the head of state, Élisabeth Borne had to publicly remind the Interior Minister of his duty of government solidarity. Sitting quietly on the sofa overlooking the gardens of the Élysée Palace, Macron said to his interlocutor: “Gérald has fallen into line. And soon, Gabriel will lead the line”….
This past Tuesday, just after the stroke of twelve, the President of the Republic picked up the phone to call his Minister of Education. There was no longer any suspense, given that the rumor had already spread through the Tout-Paris. But he waited until Gabriel Attal had completed his video-conference greetings to school heads before officially informing him of his decision: “I have decided to appoint you Prime Minister.”
Protocol, but unconventional. The two men had in fact met for two hours earlier that same morning, in the Elysée portrait room and in the presence of the Secretary General, Alexis Kohler, to unofficially work out the contours of his forthcoming promotion.
The Hôtel de Matignon saw the arrival of its youngest occupant, aged 34. A few days ago, who could have predicted this incredible scenario? “Attal is too young, and he’s only just arrived at the Ministry of Education. He won’t budge”, were the bets of the president’s most influential supporters. At the end of December, however, Emmanuel Macron showered him with praise on France 5’s “C à Vous” television program, describing him as a minister with “the energy and courage to fight the battles we need”.
In his December 31 greetings, he also spoke of 2024 as a year of “civic rearmament”, “determination, choice, regeneration”. “In fact, he probably had Gabriel in mind at the time. In retrospect, it’s quite obvious,” says an associate. Nobody saw it, even though it was right in front of everyone’s eyes.”
Who will succeed her at Rue de Grenelle?
After twenty months at Matignon, Élisabeth Borne handed over to Mr Attal in the mid-afternoon. On this occasion, Attal stated that he intended to take “the cause of schooling” with him. Now that he must tackle the delicate – and thankless – task of putting together a government, Gabriel Attal is said to have expressed his desire to keep his portfolio as Minister of National Education, along with that of head of government. Just as Raymond Barre had held both the post of Prime Minister and that of Finance Minister between 1976 and 1978.
The Élysée Palace dismisses this scenario as “absolutely not envisaged on our side”. “It’s impossible to combine posts. He doesn’t measure the workload and the time cannibalized by Parliament and government steering, especially in periods of relative majority,” confides a minister. Borne has suffered the consequences, spending an incredible amount of time dealing with the various majority groups. Mr Attal will have to get to grips with it too.
So, who will succeed him at Rue de Grenelle? “We’re still in the President’s reserved area, with a major issue at stake in this second five-year term. So, we’re going to need someone who embodies the fight for schools,” says a source familiar with the negotiations. During their morning meeting, Macron, Attal and Kohler also set out their ambitions for the new government, which is due to be named by Friday: that of a tighter structure, with the creation of enlarged ministerial clusters, like the large Bercy, which already exists around Bruno Le Maire. Sport, for example, could be attached to the Ministry of Education. A large social ministry is also being considered.
Thirty-nine ministers and secretaries of state make up the outgoing government. “We could lighten the ship by a good fifteen,” says a confidant of the Head of State. The Head of State intends to clean house. “He wants to get rid of all those who have failed in recent weeks”, one insinuates. Particularly in his sights are Clément Beaune (Transport) and Patrice Vergriete (Housing), who expressed their unease after the vote on the immigration bill. The Minister of Culture, Rima Abdul Malak, also came under fire, as she was too forward in the eyes of the President. She had declared that the Légion d’honneur should be withdrawn from Gérard Depardieu.
Gérald Darmanin and Bruno Le Maire to stay on
As for the ministers installed since May 2017, Gérald Darmanin and Bruno Le Maire, have already indicated that they wish to remain in their ministries. “Macron might have been tempted to move them. But he’s going to need stability in these key positions. And then he’s already had his wow effect by appointing Gabriel,” deciphers an adviser. According to our information, the President has personally informed the two concerned that they should be retained. He also had a long telephone conversation with the Minister of the Interior early this evening.
And then there are the less visible, but strategic functions surrounding the Prime Minister. In particular, the position of Chief of Staff, responsible for liaising with the Élysée Palace. The name of Emmanuel Moulin, currently Director General of the French Treasury, who worked at Bercy with the Le Maire team and was formerly an economic advisor under President Sarkozy, has been circulating with insistence in recent hours. On Tuesday evening, having just returned from his trip to the Pas-de-Calais region, Gabriel Attal joined Emmanuel Macron at the Élysée Palace for a working dinner to continue working on the plan. His marathon has only just begun.