Macron names conservative prime minister, eyes closer ties with Berlin

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 May, 2017, 9:49pm
UPDATED : Monday, 15 May, 2017, 10:29pm

Newly-inaugurated French President Emmanuel Macron appointed a conservative prime minister on Monday in a move to broaden his political appeal and weaken his opponents before legislative elections in June.

Edouard Philippe, 46, a lawmaker and mayor of port city Le Havre, is from the moderate wing of the centre-right The Republicans party and will be a counterweight to former Socialist MPs who have joined Macron’s cause.

Macron has vowed to end the left-right politics which have dominated France for decades, and his start-up centrist Republic on the Move (REM) party, which is just a year old, needs to find a wide base of support for the parliamentary elections.

Philippe is a close associate of former prime minister Alain Juppe, who leads the moderate wing of The Republicans and has ­indicated that he favours helping Macron. His appointment could draw more defectors from The ­Republicans.

On the other side of the political divide, Macron’s decision not to put up an REM candidate to ­oppose former Socialist prime minister Manuel Valls in his ­constituency ties Valls closer and makes it hard for a divided left to reunite. It is the first time in modern French political history that a president has appointed a prime minister from outside his camp without being forced to by a ­defeat in parliamentary elections.

By appointing Philippe, Macron has passed over some loyal followers including Richard Ferrand, a former Socialist who was one of the first to join Macron’s cause last year and is secretary general of REM. “In government, you will see that a lot of the inner circle will drop out,” Christophe Castaner, Macron’s campaign spokesman, said. “I was among the first to say ‘why not a prime minister from the right’? That’s in the nature of what we are trying to do ... It’s tough ... especially for the longest-serving ones.”

Meanwhile, Chancellor ­Angela Merkel hosts Macron in Berlin on Monday for talks in which they will seek to reinvigorate the Franco-German relationship and the troubled European project that it underpins.

Macron will ram home the message that the European Union is resilient despite Britain’s vote to leave and a spate of financial and migration crises that have boosted the far-right across the bloc. The former banker meets Merkel a day after her conservatives won a regional vote in Germany’s most populous state.

With Germany’s economy, Europe’s largest, outperforming that of France, the traditional Franco-German motor at the heart of the EU project has begun to misfire.

Merkel said at the weekend she wanted close cooperation with Macron and that their two countries would do everything to shape European policy.

Emmanuel Macron promises to ‘reform and relaunch’ EU in first speech as president of France

Many conservatives around Merkel are sceptical of Macron’s calls for closer integration.

Last week Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel of the Social Democrats – a junior ­partner in Merkel’s coalition – ­accused Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble of ­trying to “torpedo” Macron’s EU reform plans for political reasons.

Gabriel was reacting to comments from Schaeuble suggesting that Macron’s idea of creating a budget and finance minister for the euro zone were unrealistic .

Macron, a European integrationist, has pledged to restore France’s standing on the world stage, strengthen national self-confidence and heal divisions after the election campaign.