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Macron softens up and taps France’s future

Newly appointed French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal speaks with Mayor of Clairmarais Damien Morel during a visit to Clairmarais, northern France, January 9, 2024.

Newly appointed French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal speaks with Mayor of Clairmarais Damien Morel during a visit to Clairmarais, northern France, January 9, 2024.

Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday sacked Prime Minister Elizabeth Borne after 20 months on the job and appointed Gabriel Attal, a youthful, media-savvy former government spokesman and minister of education.

Attal, 34, is France’s youngest-ever prime minister. He is also the first openly gay man to serve in the post.

The move signals a shift for Macron, who has had a bruising second term since his 2022 reelection. After pushing through deeply unpopular pension reforms, as well as a tough immigration law that split his coalition, tapping Attal suggests Macron is moving to a milder phase of his presidency.

In the final three years of Macron’s term, experts say Attal will lead an effort to reinvigorate faith in France’s institutions by focusing on education and social issues. If Attal succeeds, he could give former PM Edouard Philippe a run for his money as the leading centrist candidate for the 2027 presidential election.

But he has a more immediate task at hand: fending off the challenge from the far-right National Rally party of Marine Le Pen ahead of this summer’s European Parliament elections. Le Pen’s campaign, run by a 28-year-old political phenom Jordan Bardella, currently leads Macron’s party by 10 points.

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