By BARBARA SURK and MASHA MACPHERSON Associated Press
PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron reshuffled his cabinet Monday after losing a parliamentary majority, calling on his new government to “stand firm” amid Russia’s war in Ukraine and “transform” the heavily indebted French economy.
The new government includes familiar faces from Macron’s centrist alliance and the centre-right, but none of the far-left and far-right parties that are now the main opposition forces in France’s National Assembly.
In a cabinet meeting following the announcement, Macron urged ministers to “stand firm against the background of a war that has a profound impact on many things. I think it was not sufficiently taken into account in the public debate in France.”
His government plans to introduce a bill to address growing public concerns about rising costs of living, but his opponents say Macron is unaware of the daily pain of inflation.
After France spent heavily to help the economy weather pandemic shutdowns and soften the blow of high energy prices made worse by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Macron warned on Monday that “progress can rarely be financed.” with unsecured debt or at least unsustainable debt.
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He said the government will focus on environmental challenges and “great demographic transitions” and work with local officials, businesses and citizens to “deeply transform our collective action.”
One of Macron’s most controversial plans is to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 or 65. His government argues that it is necessary to avoid state bankruptcy in a country with one of the highest life expectancies in the world. Macron’s main political rivals oppose the plan as a threat to France’s social model.
The government reshuffle comes six weeks after Macron appointed Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne to lead a new governing coalition at the start of the president’s second term. Macron, and French presidents before him, had established a rule before the parliamentary vote: only ministers who retain their seats will remain in government posts.
Three of Macron’s 15 ministers failed to win re-election and were replaced on Monday.
Christophe Bechu is the new environment minister, an important post as the EU pushes for more aggressive emissions cuts, and he was quickly criticized by campaigners who questioned his credentials. Francois Braun is now in charge of the Ministry of Health, a high-profile position as COVID-19 cases rise again.
In addition, Damien Abad, the disability policy minister who is under investigation for rape and sexual misconduct, has been replaced by Jean-Christophe Combe, the former director general of the French Red Cross.
The sexual misconduct allegations against Abad emerged just days after Borne, the second woman in French history to be appointed prime minister, announced her new government. Abad strongly denies the accusations.
The accusations were particularly embarrassing for the new prime minister and president, who claim to be champions of women’s rights and have promised “zero tolerance” for sexual misconduct.
Two other ministers who have been accused of rape kept their posts.
Macro together! The alliance won the most seats in the National Assembly in last month’s elections, but fell 44 seats short of a majority in France’s most powerful parliamentary chamber, as voters opted for the leftist Nupes coalition and the Far-right Marine Le Pen National Grouping.
With the most seats in the National Assembly, his government still has the ability to govern, but only by negotiating with legislators. To avoid the impasse, Macron’s Renaissance party and its allies may try to negotiate on a case-by-case basis with center-left and conservative party lawmakers.
Barbara Surk reported from Nice.
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