Macron bis has begun
There should be no surprise about Macron’s dismissal of Édouard Philippe: any prime minister who is more popular than his president is ripe for sacking. And it is doubtful that Philippe would have been so assiduous about regaining his mayoral post in Le Havre if he had expected to be kept on. Still, he had demonstrated a quiet competence that might have counted for something. But perhaps Macron wanted to avoid any possibility of his PM building a presidential candidacy on disloyalty to his president, as Macron himself did successfully in 2016-17 and as Valls attempted to do much less skillfully.
The president might of course have chosen a figure as substantial as Philippe to replace him–Bruno Le Maire, say–but Le Maire is also a potential presidential rival. With the choice of Jean Castex, there is no danger of nurturing a viper at Matignon. Castex is by all appearances a competent non-entity, who has made a career by graduating from the right schools and hovering around the edges of power, most recently as “secretary for a Covid exit strategy.” Macron clearly has it in mind to take over the prime minister’s office himself, leaving Castex to dot i’s and cross t’s. The new PM is even farther to the right than Philippe was: he supported Fillon in 2017, while Philippe of course supported his mentor Juppé. Anyone who expected Macron to make a gesture to the left, which has now almost completely deserted him, is left to fall back on the hope that one or two important ministries may be given a more “social” coloration. More likely, however, is an emphasis on the ecological, given the Greens’ strong showing last Sunday. But on the environmental portfolio per se, Macron is likely to want to take the reins himself. He almost certainly can’t risk raising the profile of some authentic Green leader, again for fear of the implications for 2022.
So the lineup that emerges from this long-anticipated cabinet reshuffle (or possibly overhaul?) will be of more interest than usual. Two names that will certainly not be included are Castaner, who is now discredited among both police and anti-police factions, and Buzyn, who made a hash of her Paris mayoral run while shifting blame for the Covid debacle to anyone but herself.
In any case, virtually nothing remains of the Macron phenomenon, as one might call it for want of a better term. Covid has done for his “structural” reforms–mainly tinkering with taxes and reforming the pension system yet again, which were unlikely to yield results anyway. His soaring rhetoric regarding the EU has at last resulted, thanks to Covid, in a significant concession by Merkel, but she continues to insist that this is a one-shot deal and not a step toward a reconceptualization of the EU. The left-right cleavage, which Macron had declared obsolete, has been contemptuously ignored rather than definitively aufgehoben. The vaunted “startup economy” has not materialized. And Macron himself has ceased to wear the fresh new face that won him so much early sympathy (including mine) and has begun to repeat platitudes about “reinventing” himself, ignoring the dictum that character is destiny. And what is more certain than ever is that the French have set aside the character that Macron tried to create for himself with his theatrical flair while judging harshly what they take to be the real Macron beneath the costume.
Photo Credit: erio tac France, Jean castex prades, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0.