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“Attal can also speak to the right-wing camp”


A young prime minister is supposed to give new impetus to the ailing government of French President Macron. The France expert Seidendorf explains what problems Attal inherits – and what he can do differently. Elisabeth Borne wrote in her resignation letter that she had to resign. How do you read that? Was that an unwilling departure?

Stefan Seidendorf: I think she would have liked to stay in office for a while longer. In the French constitution, which is very much dominated by the president, the prime minister is more dependent on the president than on parliament. He can even govern without confidence votes in parliament as long as he has the trust of the president.

Stefan Seidendorf

To person

Dr. Stefan Seidendorf is deputy director of the German-French Institute in Ludwigsburg.

“Borne ran out of breath” Apparently Borne no longer had that. How do you think she failed?

Silk Village: Given the circumstances, your balance sheet is certainly impressive. There was no clear majority in the 2022 parliamentary election. The largest group supports President Macron, but they do not have an absolute majority; at the same time there is no majority against them. In this situation, Borne has pushed through more than 40 legislative proposals with varying majorities – especially the very controversial pension reform and the reform of the immigration law. And yet she was now a bit out of breath.

Most of the time, a change in prime minister during the current legislature is a sign that the president needs new energy or is looking for a scapegoat. And that is both the case here to a certain extent. During the reform of the immigration law, Macron was confronted for the first time with the fact that his own group was not 100 percent behind Borne, but was divided over it. If you don’t have an absolute majority and then your own faction goes off the rails, that’s fatal. And Macron will probably blame her for that. This is where I would see the fault line.

“One of the political stars in France” Now there is a successor, Gabriel Attal. What does it stand for?

Silk Village: At least he differs greatly from Borne and also from her predecessor Jean Castex – both were technocrats, somewhat brittle, who gave the president the entire stage. Attal is very young, 34 years old, the youngest prime minister of the Fifth Republic and one of the political stars in France at the moment. He has much better approval ratings than the president himself and embodies the orientation of Macron’s party that they wanted to be neither left nor right, but rather tackle the problems in the center.

He is very successful at selling himself and was briefly a minister in several important places, most recently in the education department, which is a very important position in France. Although he was only there for about five months, he managed to embody a departure that was primarily due to his person and the way he did politics and sold himself.

“Can the young successor manage it?” However, the majority in parliament does not change. Won’t Attal face the same problem as Borne?

Silk Village: Absolutely, perhaps even more so, because the various opposition forces will smell the dawn. Borne was an administrative specialist and always managed to get the procedures and the majority in the end, even if it sometimes took a detour, as was the case recently with the immigration law. First I want to see whether the young successor can do it too.

Borne had always strived to find cooperation with the moderate conservatives, with the Republicans. That didn’t succeed and I think that Attal won’t succeed either because he is more strongly identified as a social democrat than she is. In addition, the European election campaign is approaching, which in France will focus heavily on national issues.

“Attal can also speak to the right situation” Didn’t Borne and Macron actually strengthen the conservative and right-wing parties?

Silk Village: When it came to the migration law, there was an attempt to get approval from the moderate right – but they then influenced large parts of the law. In this respect, the strategy was not convincing. The law was passed at the price of the dispute in the presidential camp, and that will not be repeated often. Some ministers threatened to resign. Attal kept a surprisingly low profile.

During his time as education minister, he tried to take a left-republican line: education as the central instrument that should enable all classes to emancipate themselves, but combined with a message of authority – authority of the teaching staff, authority of the republic towards those who question this education or the authority of the school. But he also tried to secure himself on the right by, among other things, suggesting that school uniforms be introduced. Therefore he is someone who can also speak to the right-wing camp. But he will not align himself with the right-wing extremists and right-wing extremists.

“Rendezvous with the nation” – and then? Do you have the impression that Macron has now found a way to deal with the fact that he has to look for majorities in parliament and promote his policies more strongly?

Silk Village: Under the French constitution, a president has extensive powers. He may use the instrument of Article 49 III. If there is no constructive vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister, a proposed law is adopted, even without a majority. The Prime Minister, who has now resigned, used this very often. This means that a law has come into being legally, but the question of legitimacy still arises. Macron has paid little attention to obtaining approval for his legislative proposals and is now in an approval slump – this is an accurate reflection of the difficult situation in parliament.

He has announced a new start for January, a “rendezvous with the nation”. The government reshuffle is the first step towards this. We don’t know exactly what comes next. In the past, Macron has made various attempts with participatory instruments – citizen participation, citizens’ councils. Is he thinking along these lines? Macron has already sent out signals along the lines of “We understand” several times. Are you still taking that away from him?

Silk Village: This did not convince the people who rejected him. Rather, it is dismissed as PR or even propaganda. People deny these attempts their sincerity. Some of his reforms were successful. He had difficult legislative proposals on the energy transition or climate change developed by citizens’ councils and then implemented them to a large extent. But he wasn’t thanked for that.

“The mood is bad” Macron wanted to make his second term more liberal. What’s left of it?

Silk Village: On the one hand, the presidential constitution in France has always ensured that every president still succumbs to the temptation to use this great power. Macron is governing with all the means at his disposal. At the beginning he justified this by saying that the reform backlog was so huge that we had to govern through it. People took that from him and found it good.

Now the opposition, although without a structured majority against him, is still very vocal – on the extreme left as well as on the extreme right, and the mood is bad. Governing with the instruments of the presidential constitution is all the more poorly received. Macron is accused of being increasingly authoritarian and governing in an authoritarian manner. Immigration law would be an example of this. He can’t get away from it anymore. Doesn’t the extreme right ultimately benefit from this, so that Marine Le Pen could win the next presidential election?

Silk Village: Presidential election campaigns in France are often short and intense. It is therefore far from certain that Marine Le Pen will actually be able to move into the presidential palace. At the moment she’s just trying not to do anything and not to attract attention as much as possible. And a lot of it boils down to them.

But there are candidates in Macron’s environment who are believed to be able to win over a conservative conservative majority and become president. It may be that the constructive left, ready to take on government responsibility, will pick itself up and look for a fresh start. Everything is still open.

The interview was conducted by Eckart Aretz,

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