French President Emmanuel Macron put off a government reshuffle on Wednesday, raising new questions about the depth of political experience in his party and his own ability to keep his administration on track after several resignations.
The president and his prime minister have been weighing the reshuffle for a week following the departure of three ministers since late August, including interior minister and early Macron backer Gerard Collomb. The resignations have challenged the president’s authority and stalled his reform ambitions.
Macron, 40, faces multiple challenges in carrying out a significant revamp. Not only must he try to maintain the left-right balance that he made a hallmark of his centrist movement, but also find strong candidates from among a relatively shallow and inexperienced pool of loyalists.
“The president wishes to take all the time necessary to draw up a team in a calm and professional way,” the Elysee Palace said in a statement announcing the reshuffle’s delay.
Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux, a member of Macron’s inner circle, said there was no reason to conclude that the administration was in disarray after the ministerial departures.
“Those who took the decision to leave did so for personal reasons,” Griveaux said, underscoring that Macron and his prime minister saw eye-to-eye on the way forward.
“There is no division in the government or the parliamentary majority on the political line we are pursuing, as some commentators would have you believe.”
Ministers had been expecting the rejig before a cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning. But in the event, the Elysee said it would not happen until after Macron returns from a visit to Armenia late on Friday.
Macron’s popularity has sunk in recent months, falling to below 30 percent, as frustration has welled up over a leader many voters see as arrogant and the architect of policies that favour the wealthy. Impatience has also grown with the sluggish pace of economic growth and job creation.
Opponents branded the reshuffle a “tragi-comedy” that exposed a shortage of political experience in the ruling party.
At the same time, Macron’s Republique En Marche party holds a commanding majority in the National Assembly (lower house), his presidential term runs until 2022, and the opposition is divided, meaning he faces no immediate threat.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told baying opposition lawmakers there was “no anxiety, no restlessness” inside an administration committed to social and economic reform.
However, Macron may face problems in the months ahead in form of public opposition to his plans for changes to the pension and unemployment benefits systems.
A senior Elysee official said the reshuffle process was taking longer than expected because Macron had redrawn the political landscape and brought in faces from outside politics.
“We’re no longer in an age where because someone has 15 years of service under their belt they deserve to become a minister,” the official said.