Gabriel Attal becomes France’s youngest prime minister

French Education and Youth Minister Gabriel Attal leaves after a cabinet meeting at the presidential Elysee Palace in Paris, on December 12, 2023. On December 11, 2023, the French lower house of parliament adopted a motion to reject a highly controversial immigration bill, dealing a major blow to the government of President Emmanuel Macron, who has refused his Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin's resignation and asked for "a follow-up to this text" to be presented to him on December 12. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP) (Photo by LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP via Getty Images)

Gabriel Attal is seen in this file photograph after a cabinet meeting at the presidential Elysee Palace in Paris, on December 12, 2023.Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images/FileParisCNN — 

Gabriel Attal, the 34-year-old French education minister, has been named the country’s new prime minister, a history-making appointment by President Emmanuel Macron as he looks to jumpstart his government’s flagging popularity.

Attal will be France’s youngest-ever prime minister and the first openly gay man to serve in the post – making him one of the world’s most prominent and powerful LGBTQ politicians.

Attal, a rising star in Macron’s Renaissance Party, has served as minister of education and national youth since July. During his tenure, he enacted a controversial ban on the wearing of the abaya in French public schools and has worked on raising awareness of bullying in schools.

“I know I can count on your energy and your commitment,” Macron said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, following the announcement.

In a separate post, Attal thanked Macron for his “trust” and vowed to “keep control of our destiny” and “unleash our French potential.”

Attal mentioned education, inflation, the liberalization of the French economy, and youth development as among the country’s priorities in a speech after his nomination, but highlighted education as “the mother of our battles, the one which must be at the heart of our priorities.”

“As prime minister, I will dedicate all the necessary means for its success. It will be one of my absolute priorities as head of government,” he added.

Attal, like the French president, was aligned with the center-left Socialist Party before he joined Macron’s centrist political movement. In recent years his politics have drifted at times to the right, though he has maintained a shape-shifting political identity in the mold of his boss.

Attal was the government spokesman during the pandemic, which immediately boosted his profile among the general French public. His political career has since progressed at lightning speed for a man of his age. During Macron’s second term, Attal was tapped to lead the ministry of public works and public accounts before becoming education minister.

As prime minister, he will be charged with forming a new government and ensuring the passage of legislation that advances the president’s agenda. Most power, however, lies with the French presidency.

He replaces Elisabeth Borne, who resigned from her post on Monday after a tumultuous 20-month tenure marked by unpopular retirement reforms and the urban riots last summer that followed the police shooting of a teenage boy of Algerian descent.

At a handover ceremony alongside Borne on Tuesday, Attal described his predecessor as “a PM of action and courage.”

“Your personal story and your political ethics make you exemplary. We know what we owe you,” Attal said.

Borne meanwhile said she had “carried out the projects that seemed right and necessary for our country” and was “proud of the work accomplished during these almost 20 months.”

Borne became the first female prime minister in three decades when Macron named her to the post in May of 2022, shortly after his reelection. Her party then failed to win an absolute majority in parliamentary elections the following month, which ended up stymieing her government’s ability to pass new laws.

On more than 20 occasions, Borne resorted to using a constitutional clause that allowed the government to push through bills in the lower house without a vote, including raising the age of retirement. Borne’s repeated use of the tool led to accusations of anti-democratic behavior and earned her the nickname “Madame 49.3,” a reference to the clause itself.

Most recently, Borne’s interior minister, Gerald Darmanin, spearheaded a controversial immigration reform bill that, among other things, gave local prefects more authority in dealing with undocumented workers while also limiting the welfare benefits they can receive.

The legislation’s proponents said the reforms proposed are popular with the French public, pointing to recent surveys, while its detractors argued that it included too many concessions to the far-right, such as restricting how birthright citizenship can be obtained. Longtime far-right figurehead Marine Le Pen called the bill an “ideological victory” for her political party.

Borne’s departure was unsurprising, as it came ahead of a long-anticipated cabinet reshuffle. Macron and his government have been lagging in opinion polls, while Le Pen and the far-right are enjoying an unprecedented level of support.

The French president is likely looking for a political reset ahead of this summer’s European elections and the Olympics in Paris. Surveys show that Attal is one of the more well-liked members of Macron’s government.

Le Pen said on X that the French can expect “nothing” from their new government and called the cabinet reshuffle a “childish ballet of ambitions and egos.”

“The path toward turnover starts June 9,” she said, referring to the upcoming EU vote.

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