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POLITICS

Key points: How Macron has reshuffled French cabinet for tricky second term

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday replaced a cabinet minister who is targeted by a rape probe, in a cabinet reshuffle after his ruling alliance lost its majority in parliamentary elections.

Key points: How Macron has reshuffled French cabinet for tricky second term
France's PM Elisabeth Borne waves during a ceremony in Paris in May. She and President Macron reportedly spent this weekend collaborating on a cabinet reshuffle. (Photo by Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

Main points:

  • After being accused of rape and placed under investigation, the Solidarity and Disabilities Minister Damien Abad has been replaced.
  • Macron loyalist, Clément Beaune, will switch posts from Minister of Europe to become Minister of Transport 
  • Former Health Minister, Olivier Véran, will be the new government spokesperson
  • Critics from both the left and right have argued the same people have been reappointed

After recently losing his absolute majority in the parliamentary elections, French President Emmanuel Macron reshuffled his cabinet in an attempt to a second term off to a rocky start. 

Abad, who has denied the allegations, later told reporters that he had been targeted by a “sinister movement” of “despicable slanders organised around a calendar” designed to drive him out of government after just 45 days.

He will be replaced by French Red Cross director Jean-Christophe Combe. 

According to the Elysée, the foreign, finance and defence ministers remained unchanged. This means that Catherine Colonna, Bruno Le Maire, and Sébastien Lecornu respectively will keep their positions. 

Gérald Darmanin will also stay in his post as Interior Minister, despite the fiasco surrounding the Champion’s League final and accusations that he lied over the causes of the chaos. Other posts in the 41-strong cabinet – exactly divided between men and
women – mostly went to politicians from the different factions in Macron’s camp.

However, just a month and a half after the last reshuffle, several high-profile roles have been changed, namely that of Clement Beaune, previously the Europe minister, and is known for playing a key role in Brexit negotiations.

In a surprise move, Beaune will now head the transport ministry in a cabinet reshuffle, while the chief economist of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Laurence Boone will take over as the new Europe minister.

The role of government spokesperson was also changed with the health minister from the previous government, Olivier Véran, given the role instead of Olivia Gregoire. 

Though the reshuffle replaced one minister accused of sexual assault, another accused minister was set to stay in her position.

Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, who has been accused of sexual assault in her role as a gynaecologist will remain in her current position of Secretary of State for Development, Francophonie and International Partnerships.

Other ministers, like those for health and environment who stepped down from their positions after losing their parliamentary elections, have also been replaced in the reshuffle.

Christophe Bechu, mayor of the Loire city of Angers and a key ally of former prime minister Edouard Philippe, was named environment minister, replacing Macron loyalist Amelie de Montchalin who lost the battle for her seat in the parliamentary elections.

The president of Samu-Urgences de France, François Braun, will replace Brigitte Bourguignon as Health Minister, after Bourguignon also lost her parliamentary election.

Reactions from across the spectrum

The cabinet reshuffle has not been met with applause by all parties, however. After the announcement of the new environment minister, Greenpeace France criticised the appointment, saying Bechu has “no experience of what’s at stake in the green transition and has almost never taken a stance on national or international questions of climate or the environment.”

The reshuffle was “a message to the troops: loyalty will be rewarded. Looking ahead to the coming months, when passing new laws is likely to come down to just a few votes,” tweeted Frederic Says, a political commentator for broadcaster France Culture.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen charged that “those who failed are all reappointed” to the government. Communist head Fabien Roussel told broadcaster LCI it “feels like they’re just starting over again with the same people”.

While Macron’s ruling alliance won the most seats in the June 19th parliamentary polls, it lost its majority and will need now to build coalitions to push legislation through parliament.

The outcome was seen as a major setback for the president, who won a second presidential term in May after defeating far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

This reshuffle comes just ahead of French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne’s government programme announcement, which is scheduled for this upcoming Wednesday, June 6th.

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READER QUESTIONS

Reader question: Why does secular France have Catholic holidays?

You might not have thought about it too much as you enjoyed an extra day off work, but it is perhaps unexpected that France - proudly secular since 1905 - has so many public holidays based around Catholic festivals.

Reader question: Why does secular France have Catholic holidays?

Reader question: Why does France have Catholic holidays like Ascension, Assumption and Toussaints? I thought it was supposed to be a secular republic?

The French Republic is very proud of its secular principles but yet as some readers observed, many public holidays are linked to Catholic celebrations, a reminder of its religious history.

Roughly half of the public holidays in France represent Catholic events: Easter, Ascension (May 26th), Assumption (August 15th), Pentecost (for some people), All Saints’ day (November 1st) and of course Christmas.

If you live in Alsace-Moselle (formerly Alsace-Lorraine) you get two extra holidays, both religious ones – Good Friday (the Friday before Easter) and St Stephen’s Day (December 26th) – more on why that is later.

France’s secular stance takes its roots in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 but was formally codified into law in 1905. 

France does not recognise, pay or subsidise any religion. So French local and national governments are not allowed to finance churches, mosques, synagogues or temples, and religious symbolism is not allowed in State buildings or for representatives of the State.

It is these rules that mean that, for example, French primary schools don’t perform nativity plays at Christmas and French female police officers are not permitted to wear the Muslim headscarf while on duty.

EXPLAINED What does France’s secularism really mean?

The flip side of this is that freedom of worship is also protected in the 1905 law, and everyone is allowed to practice whatever religion they choose in their private life.

The only exception to the secular rules are the three departments of Alsace-Moselle. When the 1905 law was passed the region was part of Germany and only became French again at the end of World War I. As part of the compromise agreed, today bishops, priests, rabbis and pastors have the status of civil servants and the state pays for the maintenance of religious buildings. Religious education in public schools is also preserved.

So all that seems to pretty strongly suggest that Catholic festivals should play no part in France’s holiday calendar and only the secular events – such as the Fête nationale on July 14th or VE Day on May 8th – should remain.

However, by the time secularism was formally codified into law in 1905 there was already a fairly fixed calendar of holidays and festivals – although this had already been slimmed down under the Napoleonic government in 1802 – and suddenly axing popular festivals was likely to go down pretty badly with the population at large.

Essentially then, this was a pragmatic compromise between tradition and secularism and over the years politicians have been understandably reluctant to tell the French they must lose their holidays.

But it’s noticeable that all the religious festivals in the calendar are Christian ones, and while this may reflect France’s history it’s not so representative of the current demographics, where an estimated 10 percent of the population either practice the Muslim faith or have a Muslim family background.

So could we see a scenario when we knock Ascension on the head but make Eid a public holiday?

It’s theoretically possible – in 2015 the French parliament voted through an amendment that would allow the départments of France’s Overseas Territories (Martinique, Gaudeloupe, Mayotte, Réunion and French Guiana) to switch a Catholic bank holiday for another religious celebration to suit different faiths in the local population.

However none of the overseas départements has yet made that move. 

A fresh amendment would be required to make the same move in mainland France, and there appears to be little political appetite for that at present.

What are France’s public holidays? 

  • January 1st: New Year’s Day
  • Good Friday (the Friday before Easter Monday, only a holiday in Alsace-Lorraine)
  • Easter Monday (movable date)
  • May 1st: May Day
  • May 8th: VE Day
  • May 26th: Ascension Day
  • Pentecost (movable date and no longer an official holiday)
  • July 14th – Bastille Day
  • August 15th – Assumption
  • November 1st – All Saints
  • November 11th – Armistice Day
  • December 25th – Christmas
  • December 26th – St Stephen’s Day (only a holiday in Alsace-Lorraine)
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