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Friday, May 24, 2024

Gabriel Attal becomes France’s youngest prime minister as Macron seeks reset

It remains to be seen whether Attal can do as well as prime minister as he did in previous roles.

By naming young political prodigy Gabriel Attal as prime minister, French President Emmanuel Macron is showing what he hopes is a winning hand to beat the far right, which is leading in opinion polls ahead of June’s European parliamentary elections.

Like elsewhere in Europe, France’s far right has benefited from a cost-of-living crisis, untamed immigration and resentment towards a political class that Macron has failed to bring closer to common folk despite promising to shake up politics in 2017.

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But Marine Le Pen also got a head start in the race by placing her own rising star, 28-year old Jordan Bardella, at the helm of her European campaign team, as her Rassemblement National (RN) is running up to 10 points ahead of Macron’s centrist Renaissance in opinion polls.

Macron’s strategists have become increasingly worried about Bardella’s popularity in recent weeks.

A video of the young MEP receiving rock star treatment at a food market by a crowd of adoring fans requesting selfies at the end of November got alarm bells ringing in Macron’s camp, a source with knowledge of the president’s thinking told Reuters.

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“The president said we urgently needed someone to take on Bardella,” the source said.

Attal, 34, France’s youngest-ever prime minister, is of the same calibre – he is a smooth communicator, a skilled debater in parliament and on radio shows, and has shown an ability to seize political opportunities and win over the conservatives voters Macron is after.

“It was the best card the president had up his sleeve,” IFOP pollster Jerome Fourquet said on BFM TV. “He wants to counter Bardella’s rise, especially given the major political event later this year, the European elections.”

As education minister, his first move was to ban the Muslim abaya dress in schools, drawing rave reviews in the increasingly influent right-wing media empire built by Vincent Bollore, the French Rupert Murdoch.