Christophe Castaner, France’s secretary of state for parliamentary relations and government spokesperson, arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France. (Photographer: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg)

Macron Lifts Castaner Into Cabinet in Limited Ministerial Revamp

(Bloomberg) -- Emmanuel Macron replaced his interior and agriculture ministers in a minor reshuffle of his government team aimed at bringing fresh impetus to his presidency amid sliding ratings.

The long-expected French cabinet overhaul, set in motion by the Oct. 2 resignation of the interior minister and postponed numerous times, saw Macron bring in Christophe Castaner, head of his Republic on the Move party, to fill the vacant post. Castaner is a close ally and adviser to Macron and an early backer during his presidential campaign.

Macron also brought in new ministers at culture, agriculture and territorial cohesion, while Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer’s portfolio was enlarged. Of the 34-strong government team, 50 percent are women, according to the Elysee Palace. The team represents efficiency and continuity, according to an official in the president’s office.

Other key ministers kept their posts. Among them: Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, Energy Minister Francois de Rugy, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin, Defense Minister Florence Parly and Digital Minister Mounir Mahjoubi.

Renewed Impulse

The limited scope of the government overhaul signals Macron’s determination to push ahead with his reform plans with scant regard for his ratings. The calendar for reform won’t change, according to the Elysee official. It’s a renewed team with a renewed impulse, the official said.

Support for Macron was hurt over the summer by a scandal over his bodyguard caught on video beating protesters and the shock departure of key members of his team, culminating in the loss of Gerard Collomb, a political heavyweight and one of his earliest backers who became interior minister. The president’s approval rating slid around 20 percentage points and is now at about 30 percent, lower in some polls than his predecessor Francois Hollande.

The tweaked team will press ahead with the agenda set by Macron from the start of his mandate in May 2017, including implementing tough reforms on tax, labor laws, training and benefits, as well as to prepare a controversial pensions reform.

The French leader has said in recent weeks that he wouldn’t succumb to the “tyranny of the now.” In a Bloomberg interview on Sept. 26, Macron said he “is not poll driven.” He pledged to “keep exactly the same pace” for the rest of his mandate.

‘Arm Wrestling’

The long procrastinated team change will leave a trace. Days of comments and reports in French media over the shuffle fueled speculation of a split between him and his French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe. Macron’s office denied the reports, saying the delay stemmed from the need to maintain a political and gender balance in the cabinet, and the vetting of all candidates to avoid repeating earlier resignations of ministers for tax reasons.

All that hasn’t ended speculation of discord. Far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon told Europe 1 radio on Sunday that he believes the prime minister has been “arm wrestling” with the president, and that the delays show a “total weakening of the state.”

An Odoxa poll released Thursday found that 53 percent of the French thought the delay was “serious” because it showed discord between the president and prime minister. The same poll also showed that 55 percent of the French say they have more confidence in Philippe than Macron, with 29 percent saying they have more confidence in the president.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.