PARIS (Reuters) – French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and his government resigned on Friday as President Emmanuel Macron acted on a pledge to reinvent his administration and win back disillusioned voters ahead of a possible re-election bid in 2022.
Macron is reshaping his government as France grapples with the deepest economic depression since World War Two, a sharp downturn that will shrink the economy by about 11% in 2020 and reverse hard-fought gains on unemployment.
Investors will be watching to see if Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who has overseen reforms to liberalise the economy and spent big to keep companies like Air France (AIRF.PA) and Renault (RENA.PA) afloat during the crisis, keeps his job.
“The return from summer holidays will be difficult, we must get ready,” Macron told regional newspapers in an interview published late on Thursday.
Macron’s office said a replacement for Philippe would be named within hours. A source familiar with Macron’s thinking said the president would not reappoint his prime minister, as can sometimes happen in French reshuffles.
Questions over Philippe’s job have swirled since mid-June when Macron, whose term has less than two years to run, declared he wanted to recast his presidency as France emerges from the coronavirus crisis.
“A new phase begins with new talents and new ways of running government,” an Elysee official told Reuters.
Macron and Philippe dined together on Wednesday and met on Thursday. The Elysee source described Thursday’s discussions as warm and friendly. Both men agreed on “the need for a new government to embody the next phase, a new path,” the aide said.
Macron had last month stated his desire to start afresh as France embarks on a delicate and costly recovery from its coronavirus slump. Then came his party’s dire showing in nationwide municipal elections on June 28.
The local elections revealed surging support for the Green party and underlined Macron’s troubles with left-leaning voters. His La Republique en Marche party failed to win a single major city, depriving the president of a local power base ahead of 2022.
The most notable win was Philippe’s own success in his old redoubt of Le Havre and his resignation clears the way for him to become mayor of the northern port, from where he could emerge as a rival to Macron in two years time.
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Cardboard boxes were delivered to the prime minister’s offices minutes after the government’s resignation was announced.
Macron is taking a gamble by replacing Philippe, who is more popular then the president, political analysts say. The prime minister remained loyal during waves of unrest and rarely emerged from his boss’ shadow.
But keeping Philippe would have been problematic too, suggesting that Macron was too weak to let go of his prime minister and that his party lacked the depth to carry out a full cabinet overhaul.
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