Gabriel Attal – solution for all Macron’s problems?

Gabriel Attal, the minister of education and youth who turns no more than 35 in March, now has become France’s youngest prime minister. His primary mission and responsibility? To bolster Emmanuel Macron’s failing popularity.

It is necessary to remind of the quirks of the French political system before making any comments on the new head of French government. General de Gaulle established a constitution that gives the president, often called a republican king, complete administrative authority. The president of France has total authority over the cabinet and even presides over its sessions, unless his opponents have a strong majority in parliament and there happens a cohabitation, or co-ruling with the opposition. The role of the prime minister is to be either a fuse or a buffer to the president’s power. And Macron needs somebody like this more than ever. In 2023, he took up two highly controversial issues: first the pension reform, which led to huge demonstrations all over the country, and then migration, pushing through a law applauded by the far right (and thanks to far right votes). His popularity fell down. Sacrifices had to be made.

That is why France said goodbye to Elisabeth Borne, a politician with charisma equal to C-3PO from Star Wars. She was replaced by a typical bourgeois, a child of the Parisian elite, whose smile is intended to hide the twilight of Proudhon and Jean Jaures state.

What is Gabriel Attal’s background? He received his degree in law from Université Paris-Panthéon-Assas in 2010. Then, a diploma from the Paris Institute of Political Sciences in 2013, which he received, being already a member of the Socialist Party. Serving as an advisor to Minister of Social Affairs and Health Marisol Touraine, he was part of the ‘left-wing’ administration from 2012 until 2017. In 2014, he was also a city councillor of Vanves.

He became a member of the LREM group, which Emmanuel Macron eventually renamed Renaissance. He was elected for the first time to the National Assembly in 2017, then, for the second time, in 2022. He served as the Minister of Education and Youth’s Secretary of State from 2018 until 2020. After then, he served as the government spokesperson. In May 2022, Borne chose him to be the delegated minister for public accounts in the newly constituted cabinet, at the Ministry of Economy, Finance, Industrial and Digital Sovereignty. After the post-election government rebuilding in July of that year, he stayed in this role. He was appointed Minister of Education and Youth in July 2023. 

His rise has been rapid. Ten years ago, he was just a member of the Socialist Party and one of many advisors and consultants with little significance. Now, just after appointing him, Macron wrote on social media:

I know I can count on your energy and your commitment to implement the project of revitalisation and regeneration that I announced.

We might also add that he is the first openly homosexual inhabitant of the Matignon palace. He maintains a civil relationship with MEP Stéphane Sejourné, another strong ally of Macron.

Where is the political merit?

Attal is well-liked, well-rated and has many sympathizers. All of these is an asset in nowadays politics based on pictures, gestures and quick reactions. If we were to look for impressive reforms or other important moves he made in the education field, there are, however, none. Does Attal get promoted for being young, dynamic and nicely looking? Many observers have said that his intensity may finish the Borne team’s state of immobility, helplessness, and acceptance of losing. At the same time, if he gets too popular and too visible, he will be in danger of a personality clash with the president. Something Macron will not like. 

Personally, I expected someone more conservative to become the new prime minister. I thought in particular of Julien Denormandie, the former Minister of Territorial Cohesion for urban areas and housing in 2018, then Minister of Agriculture and Food from July 2020 until May 2022. I believed that in today’s context this father of a family, having an MBA education and belonging to Macron’s old guard, always an opportunist with a conservative streak in the parties of power, he could be a good choice. However, looking at the bio more closely, perhaps he is too independent?

As we know, taking a glance at Borne, Macron hates such people.

As a former member of the Socialists, Attal is like a wink to the center-left. More precisely, to these segments of center-left which are ready to forgive Macron the harcore neoliberalism he is pushing, as well as not to notice the alliance with the right and far right that has materialized in the parliament.

Secondly, is it possible that his nomination is a response to the popularity of the rising chief adjutant or even Marine Le Pen’s dolphin Jordan Bardella? He is another of Le Pen’s bull terriers, who is supposed to help her become president in spe, while he will fight for the interests of the far right on the other flank. However, the public’s desire right now is clearly for the Macron presidency to have a new purpose rather than just a reorganization of power at the top.

Nevertheless, given the current state of affairs, the smiling Gabriel Attal will have the same difficulties as his non-charismatic predecessor Élisabeth Borne. The far right camp is more and more often expected to win the European elections in June with great popularity. There is still no solid majority for the government in the National Assembly, making adoption of any new legislation difficult. And what’s more, there is a president who doesn’t seem to know what he exactly wants to accomplish in his second term…

What is the plan, some are also asking, if it seems likely that Macron’s party loses heavily in the European elections?

Is the Prime Minister satisfied with the subservient position the French system gives to him? How will his suggestions be received by the president? Will the president be envious of the prime minister’s superior polling (because similar incidents have previously occurred in France)?

Is the prime minister not going to begin constructing his own political platform?

In three years, in 2027, France will have presidential elections, but concerns about the president’s future are already being voiced. These issues take on a worrisome political shape: will the National Rally’s increasingly formidable leader, Marine Le Pen, succeed the unpopular Macron?

In any case, Macron shows no sign of having a real vision for the remaining time of his term. Nor a vision to lead his party out of troubles. Maybe the new prime minister can enlighten him.

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