PARIS (Reuters) – President Emmanuel Macron’s reshuffled government took office on Tuesday, with conservatives given prominent roles in efforts to rescue France’s coronavirus-ravaged economy from the worst depression in decades.
Reappointed as finance minister, Bruno Le Maire promised a company-focused recovery plan to revive growth, but said he would not lose control over spending.
Le Maire said he faced a “crushing task” confronted by the severest economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. “My road map is clear and simple: it will be recovery – morning, noon and night.”
The coronavirus crisis has unravelled the hard-fought gains of a liberal economic reform agenda that provoked waves of protests during Macron’s first three years in office.
Before the pandemic hit, French growth was among the highest in the euro zone, unemployment was falling and foreign investors were rewarding Macron for deregulating parts of the economy.
But now the jobless rate is rising, the government forecasts the economy will shrink by 11% and debt is spiralling higher.
“It is out of the question that economic stimulus gets done at the expense of well-managed public accounts over the long term,” Le Maire continued.
The reshuffle saw former conservatives, including Le Maire, in control of the most influential ministries – a sign Macron will seek to consolidate support among centre-right voters ahead of a possible re-election bid.
An Odoxa-Dentsu Consulting poll showed eight in 10 people believed the reshuffle would not lead to a shift in policy direction.
At least two small groups of feminist protesters targeted the new government.
Three topless women protested in front of the Elysee Palace, one of them bearing the slogan “RIP The Promises”, as Macron prepared to convene the cabinet for the first time.
In a second action, protesters took aim at new Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, against whom an investigation into a rape allegation was reopened last month.
Darmanin, who was previously Macron’s budget minister, denies rape.
Macron redrew the political landscape when he swept to power three years ago, carving out a niche in the centre ground and poaching ministers from the left and right.
On Monday, he let go of several former Socialist ministers, while promoting others from conservative ranks.
(Additional reporting by Leigh Thomas and Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by Michel Rose and Richard Lough; Editing by Alex Richardson and Giles Elgood)