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October 17, 2018


Much ado about nothing?

After two weeks we finally have a reshuffle in the French government - not a big-bang shakeup, no new maverick minister, no scintillating expert, but a new crew that sends a message of continuity and rewards loyalty. It is not a political game-changer, but a return to Emmanuel Macron's original mantras of political balance with efficiency. With this reshuffle, he consolidates his support, elevates the position of François Bayrou's MoDem party, and strengthens the role of the regions. 

Eight new faces join the government, and six ministerial portfolios were shifted. Christophe Castaner, the LREM leader in the parliament, becomes interior minister, the most important appointment. Macron can now expect that there will be no more dramatic departures from big cabinet jobs. The ministry for the regions got an upgrade: relations between the president and the regions have not been the best over the last year. The political balance between the nominees was carefully kept: Francois Bayrou got some of his people into crucial positions, Jacqueline Gourault for the regional ministry and Marc Fesneau for relations with parliament, a role traditionally kept by the majority party. The only minister from the right to enter the government was Franck Riester, who takes over the cultural portfolio. This is counterbalanced by the nomination of Didier Guillaume, an ex-Socialist, the new agriculture minister. 

What happened to all the experts Macron wanted to include in this reshuffle? It is not for lack of trying. He negotiated with Frédéric Péchenard, former chief of the police and a Sarkozy supporter, to take over as interior ministry but this did not work out. We hear conflicting reports about the why. It could be because Péchenard's conditions to have his own team could not be met, as JDD reports. Or because Bayrou was against it, as Marianne writes. 

Castaner will face an uphill struggle to establish his credibility in the interior ministry. Two experts have been appointed to flank him: Laurent Nunez, head of the general directorate for internal security, will be in charge of coordinating police, gendarmerie and intelligence services as his state secretary. Stéphane Bouillon, prefect of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, will be his director of cabinet. 

The new team that emerges from this reshuffle did not trigger much excitement in the media. Their verdict was that it was a safe but boring choice, with the assumption that this is the best Macron could do under the circumstances. This is in stark contrast to the dramatising rhetoric Macron chose when he spoke to the French in an unexpected televised address last night. He promised historic decisions for the weeks to come and reaffirmed his determination to change the country profoundly. He also tried to mend his relationship with ordinary people by admitting that "sometimes my determination or my true way of speaking might shock some". Will all this help to make him more popular? We very much doubt it. 

Our other stories

We also have stories on the Commission bringing the Italian budget conflict to a head; on the EU potentially offering the UK a longer transition period; on the SPD's candidate for the European elections; on Germany's proposal for European unemployment insurance; on Lorenzo Bini-Smaghi's ECB policy proposals; and on poverty trends in the EU.

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