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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Gabriel Attal, 34, becomes France’s youngest prime minister

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France has named its youngest – and first openly gay – prime minister as President Emmanuel Macron seeks a fresh start for the rest of his term amid growing pressure from the far right.

Gabriel Attal, 34, rose to prominence as a government spokesman then education minister and had polled as the most popular minister in the outgoing government.

His predecessor Elisabeth Borne resigned on Monday after turmoil over an immigration law that strengthens the government’s ability to deport foreigners.

Mr Macron will work with Mr Attal to name a new government in the coming days, though some key ministers are expected to stay on.

“I know I can count on your energy and your commitment,” the president posted in a message to Mr Attal.

Mr Macron made a reference to Mr Attal reviving the “spirit of 2017”, when Mr Macron shook up politics with a surprise victory as France’s youngest president on a pro-business, centrist platform aimed at reviving one of the world’s biggest economies.

During the handover ceremony, Mr Attal said: “I could read and hear it: the youngest president of the Republic in history appoints the youngest prime minister in history.

“I want to see it only as the symbol of boldness and movement. It is also, and perhaps above all, a symbol of confidence in young people.”

He said his goals include making security an “absolute priority” and promoting values of “authority and respect of others”. He also vowed to strengthen public services including schools and the health system and push for “better controlling immigration”.

Mr Macron, 46, has shifted to the right on security and migration issues since his election, notably as far-right rival Marine Le Pen and her anti-immigration, anti-Islam National Rally party have gained political influence.

The president’s second term lasts until 2027, and he is constitutionally barred from a third consecutive term.

Political observers have suggested that Mr Macron, a staunch supporter of European integration, wants his new government to prepare for June’s European Union elections, where far-right, anti-EU populists are expected to increase their influence.

Critics from left and right took aim at Mr Attal for his limited experience, his Paris upbringing seen as out of touch with people struggling in the provinces, and his loyalty to the president.

Ms Le Pen posted: “What can the French expect from this 4th prime minister and 5th government in 7 years (under Macron)? Nothing,” and called on voters to choose her party in the European elections.

Eric Ciotti, head of the conservative Republicans party, said: “France urgently needs action: it needs a different approach.” He added that the Republicans would remain a “responsible opposition” to the centrist government.

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