French PM resigns as Macron seeks to reignite presidency

French prime minister Edouard Philippe has stepped down, kick-starting a government reshuffle designed to reignite Emmanuel Macron’s presidency two years before presidential elections.

“Mr Edouard Philippe has handed in the resignation of the government to the president of the republic, who has accepted it,” said a brief statement from the Elysée Palace on Friday.

“He will ensure, with the members of the government, the management of current operations until the nomination of the new government,” it added.

Mr Macron is eager to relaunch his presidency ahead of the next presidential election in 2022. His first three years in office have been marked by sometimes contentious economic reforms, the gilets jaunes anti-government protests and the coronavirus pandemic that has killed nearly 30,000 people in France and triggered a deep recession.

Mr Philippe could, in theory, be reinstated as prime minister leading a reshuffled cabinet, but the resignation of the whole government suggests Mr Macron has in mind something more ambitious than a handful of new ministers.

“We need to lay out a new path,” Mr Macron said in an interview with French regional newspapers published on Friday morning, adding that he wanted a “reinvention of aims and a method for rebuilding the country” after the Covid-19 crisis. 

He also said he would press on with the reform of France’s costly and complex pension system, despite the fact that the plans triggered public sector transport strikes and trade union protests last year. “Should we consign the pension reform to the dustbin?” Mr Macron asked. “No, that would be a mistake.”

Mr Philippe, although not a member of Mr Macron’s La République en Marche party, has been an effective and loyal head of government since the president came to power in 2017, and his popularity has risen during the coronavirus crisis. 

But it is normal in the fifth republic for French presidents to ditch their prime ministers to mark a new start, and Mr Philippe took out an insurance policy on his political future by winning a local election to be chosen as mayor of his home town of Le Havre last weekend. 

A politician of the centre-right, Mr Philippe could use Le Havre as a base for his own presidential bid in the future. 

Mr Macron paid tribute to his prime minister in his latest interview, although he did not say whether he would keep Mr Philippe for the final two years. “For three years by my side he has done a remarkable job with successive governments and we have carried out some important reforms. We have a relationship of trust,” said Mr Macron.

But he added: “I will have to make choices to take the new road. There are new aims of independence, reconstruction and reconciliation . . . Behind that, there will be a new team.”

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