On July 6th, the new French Government was revealed following the departure of former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe. The cabinet reshuffle came amid the coronavirus crisis and followed poor results for President Macron’s party in recent local elections. Despite Macron promising a “renewal” of his mandate, the new line-up has retained many members from the previous government, indicating that the President favours a degree of political continuity as he begins to prepare for a re-election campaign in 2022.
Research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies in the aftermath of the reshuffle underlines that the French public generally has a limited opinion on the new members of the government. In particular, a clear plurality (39%) of respondents answered that they have neither a positive nor a negative view of the new Prime Minister Jean Castex.
A quarter (25%) of those polled held a positive opinion and 18% a negative opinion. Significantly, an overwhelming majority of 74% of respondents had never heard of Jean Castex prior to his appointment as Prime Minister. Overall, the nomination of Jean Castex – a centre-right and relatively low-profile politician – suggests that Macron is looking to take dominant control of the Government as he prepares for 2022 whilst maintaining the delicate balance between left wing and right-wing policies.
Castex’s low profile contrasts with the relative popularity enjoyed by former Prime Minister, and now mayor of Le Havre, Edouard Philippe. A clear plurality (41% of respondents answered that they had a positive view of Philippe.
Macron is well aware that his popularity rate fared comparatively worse than Philippe, and his reshuffle can be read as an attempt to avoid the rise of an internal challenger prior to his re-election bid in two years. A majority (53%) of the French public do not think that Macron is a strong leader. Over two-thirds (67%) of respondents consider that Macron does not ‘care about people like me’, while a further 62% disagree that Macron is someone who tells the truth. Half (50%) of those polled do not believe that Macron can get the economy going again and a majority (53%) do not think he ‘knows how to get things done.’ Moreover, Macron is considered a divisive character: a plurality do not believe the President is willing to work with the opposition where possible, and a strong majority (58%) do not think Macron is capable of bringing French people together.
Although perceptions of Macron amongst the French public are broadly negative at this stage, opinions about the President’s abilities in the international arena are more positive. A plurality (44%) of respondents believe that Macron is someone who stands up for the interests of France, while a clear majority (60%) think the President can work with foreign leaders. Nevertheless, the public are sceptical of Macron’s ability to be tough on China: just a quarter (25%) think he will be, while 45% do not think he will stand up to the Chinese Government.
The new cabinet saw the appointment of a range of figures to support Macron’s re-election. Several ministries, including the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of the Environment were expanded, while a new Ministry for the Seas was created. Nevertheless, these appointments have so far failed to gain traction amongst French voters. For instance, a plurality (39%) of respondents have no opinion on the new Minister of Ecological Transition, Barbara Pompili.
Slightly more respondents had a positive opinion (22%) than a negative opinion (18%) of Pompili, a former member of the Green Party who will be responsible of implementing the environmental agenda drafted by the Citizens’ Climate Convention. The successful integration of Pompili into Government will be crucial for Macron, given the successes of the Green Party in recent local elections.
Other figures from the previous administration were kept in place, including the Minister of European and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian and the Minister of the Economy, Finance and Recovery Bruno Le Maire. However, both of these figures remain relatively unknown by the public: roughly a third of respondents had no opinion on both Le Drian and Le Maire.
A key aspect of Le Maire’s brief includes constructing a recovery plan to curb the economic blow brought by the coronavirus crisis. We found that, between June and July, a majority of respondents continue to be pessimistic about the future of the economy in France – 57% of the public are currently pessimistic about the future of the economy in France, while less than a fifth (18%) are optimistic.
Health Minister Olivier Véran remains in office as he was appointed in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. A slight plurality (35%) of respondents have a positive view of Véran. However, almost a third of the public (32%) hold no opinion of the minister primarily responsible for keeping the pandemic under control in France.
Significantly, 37% of respondents held a positive view of the newly appointed Minister of Culture, Roselyne Bachelot. A former Minister under President Chirac and Sarkozy, Bachelot’s decision to purchase millions of masks to combat the swine flu pandemic in 2009 was positively re-appraised during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, when stocks of face-masks were notably low.
Two nominations have sparked outrage amongst some sections of the French public. In particular, the appointment Gérald Darmanin at the Ministry of the Interior was especially controversial, as the former budget minister faces two accusations of rape. Feminist activists took to the streets to protest his nomination, which contradicts the President’s pledge to fight sexual assault. Roughly one in three respondents had a negative view of Darmanin. 20% had a positive view.
A majority (55%) of respondents believe that it was wrong of the government to name Darmanin at the Interior. Notably, 59% of those who had voted for Macron in the second round of the Presidential elections opposed his nomination.
The second controversial nomination was that of Eric Dupond-Moretti as Minister of Justice. Known for his record for acquittals in many publicized court cases and for his hostility towards judges, Dupond-Moretti is a contentious figure in France. For example, in 2017, Dupond-Moretti defended the brother of terrorist Mohamed Merah who had killed seven people in an attack against a Jewish school. Our findings reflect the division Dupond-Moretti often inspires among the French public: 29% have a negative opinion of the lawyer, 29% have no opinion and 26% have a positive opinion.
Overall, the lack of strong feelings the new Government inspires amongst French voters is indicated through the fact that a strong plurality (42%) neither approve nor disapprove of the new government formed by Castex.
Ultimately, Macron may be hoping that the limited public recognition of figures within his Government may enable him to positively reassert himself in the eyes of the French public. Several aspects of Macron’s Presidency are currently viewed unfavourably by the French public, yet he will be looking to change perspectives in the lead up to his re-election bid in 2022.