Edouard Philippe (R) meets his predecessor Bernard Cazeneuve during a handover ceremony. (Reuters: Benoit Tessier )
Newly-inaugurated French President Emmanuel Macron has appointed a conservative prime minister in a move to broaden his political appeal and weaken his opponents before legislative elections in June.
- Edouard Philippe is the mayor of port city Le Havre
- New PM began politics as Socialist activist before turning to right
- Mr Philippe is close associate of former PM Alain Juppe
Edouard Philippe, 46, a politician and mayor of port city Le Havre, is from the moderate wing of the main centre-right The Republicans party and will be a counterweight to former Socialist MPs who have joined Mr Macron’s cause.
Elysee secretary-general Alexis Kohler made the announcement on the steps of the presidential palace.
Mr Macron has vowed to end the left-right politics which have dominated France for decades, and his start-up centrist Republic on the Move (REM) party, which is just a year old, needs to find a wide base of support for the parliamentary elections.
The head of The Republicans reacted coolly towards the appointment of Mr Philippe, saying it was an ambiguous move and it was unclear what political line he would follow.
“This is an individual decision. It is not a political agreement,” said Bernard Accoyer, secretary-general of The Republicans party.
“Will this new prime minister support the candidates of En Marche (On the Move) of the President … or will he support the candidates of The Republicans-UDI, the candidates of his own political family?”
Mr Philippe is a close associate of former prime minister Alain Juppe, who leads the moderate wing of The Republicans and has indicated that he favoured helping Mr Macron.
Mr Juppe said the Mr Philippe was “a man of great talent” with “all the qualities to handle the difficult job”.
His appointment could draw more defectors from The Republicans.
On the other side of the political divide, Mr Macron’s decision not to put up an REM candidate to oppose former Socialist prime minister Manuel Valls in his constituency ties Mr Valls closer and makes it hard for a divided left to re-unite.
It is the first time in modern French political history that a president has appointed a prime minister from outside his camp without being forced to by a defeat in parliamentary elections.
Mr Macron’s presidential win itself was a seismic shift in a political landscape dominated for decades by the two main left-wing and right-wing parties.
New PM a boxer and collector of cufflinks
By appointing Mr Philippe, Mr Macron passed over some loyal followers including Richard Ferrand, a former Socialist who was one of the first to join Mr Macron’s cause last year and is secretary-general of REM.
One of Mr Macron’s close aides said this was the kind of tough choice that would have to be made in Mr Macron’s inner circle now that the battle for the Elysee was won.
French prime minister Edouard Philippe likes to box in his spare time and collects cufflinks. (Twitter: Edouard Philippe)
“In government, you will see that a lot of the inner circle will drop out,” said Christophe Castaner, Mr Macron’s campaign spokesman.
“I was among the first to say ‘why not a prime minister from the right’? That’s in the nature of what we are trying to do … it’s tough … especially for the longest-serving ones.”
Mr Philippe began his political life as a Socialist activist affiliated to former prime minister Michel Rocard while he was a student, before turning to the right.
A trained lawyer, he worked as public affairs director for the state nuclear group Areva between 2007 and 2010, before becoming a member of parliament in 2012, and then mayor of Le Havre in 2014.
Last year he was part of Mr Juppe’s unsuccessful campaign team in The Republicans’ primaries, and then joined the presidential campaign of Francois Fillon, the party’s nominee.
Mr Philippe quit that cause when the financial scandal over fake jobs for Mr Fillon’s family hit his campaign.
Mr Philippe, like Mr Macron, attended the elite ENA school, and his political hero is Mr Rocard — another point in common with the 39-year-old new President.
The son of teachers, he likes to box in his spare time, collects cufflinks and is an author of political thrillers.