Full steam to the right for Macron’s new Prime Minister Jean Castex

By Gaelle Legrand

A NEW Prime Minister has been nominated by president Emmanuel Macron during a cabinet reshuffle last Friday in France.

Jean Castex, 55 and elected mayor of Prades, a village in the south west of France, is still unknown to the public and took his functions in the afternoon, following a swift handover from Edouard Philippe.

Macron’s tough round during the local elections did not make him deviate from his original politics as Mr Castex’s nomination is a prolongation of moderate conservatism, Jean-Baptiste Forray, La Gazette des Communes’ managing editor told Redaction Politics.

READ MORE: Don’t count on Macron’s collapse – or on the rise of French nationalism

Who is Jean Castex?

“Castex has a provincial look, far from the fitted suits that are conventional in Macron’s circle,” said Mr Forray.

“He comes from a difficult place, about 500 miles from Paris, in an area where Marine Le Pen managed to get more than 30 percent of votes during the first round of the last presidential elections.

“He is traditionally locally elected, sits as a mayor, but also as president of a federation of towns and as departmental councillor.

“His grand-father was a senator-mayor (sitting in the upper House) and his own wife is a councillor.

“He is in touch with the population, but he’s a bit of a Doctor Jean and Mister Castex.

“At the same time, he is a pure product of gentry, from the 7th arrondissement of Paris.

“He was in charge of a sport quango, and the one in charge of the 2024 Olympic Games preparation, but above all, he was the one in charge of easing the lockdown, which was a launching pad for him.”

The new cabinet

While Mr Castex started his role over the weekend, a newly formed cabinet will be announced later today.

Key ministers include the Department of Justice, Internal Affairs, Economy and Finances, Health.

Some commentators, like Nicolas Hulot, former Secretary of State for the Environment, suggested a bigger role for this department, to be joined with the Department for Agriculture.

“An ecologist in Matignon ‘would look sleek’ argues Nicolas Hulot, who also advocates for agriculture to be part of the Department for Environment.”

But the Green party Europe Ecologie Les Verts already said that it would not take part in Macron’s government.

The Green dilemma

As Macron enters the last two years of his presidency, a cabinet reshuffle came naturally after the second round of local elections last weekend.

His party La Republique En Marche (LREM) faced a strong defeat during this ballot, as Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux turned to the Green Party and Paris remained with socialist Anne Hidalgo.

Could the new Prime Minister have greener ideas than his predecessor ?

“Castex does not embody what the urban population voted for last Sunday, which is a green transformation and an acceleration of this transformation,” said Mr Forray.

“From all I know, he has never said anything publicly on this topic and he has never shown a green hand.”

“ENA graduate and senior civil servant, righ-wing man, Elysée Palace vice general secretary under Sarkozy – No environmental or social leaning, Jean Castex nominated Prime Minister embodies the prolongation of a liberal and right-wing policy where environment is pushed into the background.”

While urban populations voted for greener programmes, Macron’s decision to nominate a moderate conservative is nonetheless coherent.

“Ecologists only represent a small part of the population, as they got 13 percent of the vote during the last European elections with an extremely low turnout,” said Mr Forray.

“Green mayors were elected with only 15 to 20 percent of votes, especially in big cities, so they do not represent a threat to Macron for now.

“By removing Edouard Philippe, he did not want to lose on the right what he already lost on the left.

“He has chosen to play it safe by maintaining his positions with moderate conservatives.

“The goal is also to make sure to get to the second round [of the presidential elections in 2022.]”

Macron’s choice for a personality unknown from the public might come as a surprise as Mr Forray explained, with Jean Castex being the first Prime Minister since George Pompidou (1962) who never sat as an MP or a Secretary of state.

However, with the coming 2022 general elections, the president upholds his control over internal politics.

“The choice of Jean Castex is questionable, as he is a rookie in terms of electoral battles,” argues Mr Forray.

“He will be the first in line during this battle. But here again, Macron does Macron.

“One can question whether Jean Castex will only be a simple cabinet director in this case, because he does not really have the profile of a puncher.”

Macron’s hand on local elections, as he personally invested himself in choosing local LREM councillors to run for mayor, did not receive the expected outcome and this could happen too with his pick on the Prime Minister.

“It looks like a good cast. Castex is both a local man, and from the state administration, he can be in both situations,” said Mr Forray.

“He is very close to Nicolas Sarkozy but in the end, Emmanuel Macron did not really see him in action.

“It looks like he has done well with easing the lockdown but Macron has not seen his political game.

“This said, when he nominated Edouard Philippe, he was unknown to the public too.”

Featured Image: Elliott Brown@Flickr

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