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France: Elisabeth Borne named new PM

Published : May 17, 2022 16:53 IST T+T-
Borne was named France's new prime minister following the resignation of Jean Castex.

Borne was named France's new prime minister following the resignation of Jean Castex.

She is the first woman to become prime minister in over 30 years, and will help President Emmanuel Macron appoint his new cabinet.

French President Emmanuel Macron appointed Elisabeth Borne as France's new prime minister on May 16. She is only the second woman to hold the position, and the first to head the French government since 1992. Borne succeeds Jean Castex, whose resignation paved the way for a cabinet overhaul after Macron's re-election last month. She will seek to make a greater impact than France's first female prime minister, Edith Cresson, who lasted less than a year under President Francois Mitterrand and quit amid a corruption scandal.

At the transition of power ceremony, Castex called Borne "Madame la Premiere Ministre" with a broad smile, before warning: "The role [of prime minister] is not exempted from public exposure and criticism, dear Elisabeth, people even say that's what it had been created for," Castex said of what the French often refer to as the "job from hell," working to implement plans on behalf of an ever-present president.

Macron's high expectations

Macron most likely hopes Borne's profile could help him appeal to radical-left voters who backed Jean-Luc Melenchon in the first round of the presidential election in April, while avoiding alienating supporters right-wing supporters of Marine Le Pen.

Her first task would be to steer Macron's centrist grouping in the upcoming parliamentary election. Despite being historically close to the Socialist Party, Borne proved her loyalty to the president during his first term when she served as transport, environment and finally, labour minister from 2020. On her watch, unemployment fell to its lowest level in 15 years and youth unemployment to its lowest level in 40 years.

Melenchon attacks her record as labour minister

However, as labour minister, she also oversaw negotiations with unions that resulted in a cut to unemployment benefits for some job seekers and reduced monthly payments for some unemployed people. Those negotiating skills could come in handy when she'll be charged with pushing through Macron's unpopular plans to raise the pension age from 62 to 65. Macron had hoped to do this in his first term, but had to delay his plans amid widespread strikes and public protests, and then later as the COVID pandemic turned the last years of his first term into more of a damage limitation exercise.

Melenchon was quick to dismiss Borne's appointment, referring to her as "my predecessor," indicating a belief the he would be able to usurp the position as prime minister following parliamentary elections in the summer. "Borne: reduction in the allowances for 1 million unemployed people, abolition of regulated gas prices, postponement of the end of nuclear power by 10 years, opening up to competition of [publicly-owned rail companies] SNCF and RATP. Very in favor of retirement at 65. Forward for a new season of social abuse," Melenchon wrote, listing what he perceived to be some of her main achievements in politics to date.

Macron also promised that the new prime minister would be directly in charge of "green planning,'' seeking to accelerate France's implementation of climate-related policies.

lo/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)