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Gabriel Attal: Macron’s unconventional choice for France’s youngest-ever prime minister

Emmanuel Macron’s bold move to appoint Gabriel Attal, France’s youngest-ever prime minister, reflects a strategic push to counter far-right gains and revitalize his presidency amid turbulent times.

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FRANCE – In a surprising and audacious move, French President Emmanuel Macron has appointed Gabriel Attal as France’s youngest-ever prime minister, signalling a strategic shift in an attempt to rejuvenate a challenging second term and counter potential gains for the far right in the upcoming European elections in June.

Attal, 34, who previously served as the Minister of Education, is not only known for his political acumen but also as a key figure within Macron’s inner circle, earning him the nickname “baby Macron.”

Attal, a proponent of centrist politics, shares many qualities with the president, including ambition, a strong media presence, and a commitment to Macron’s vision for the country.

Emmanuel Macron & Gabriel Attal. (Photo: AP via The Guardian)

Beyond these traits, Attal’s appointment is groundbreaking as he becomes the first openly gay prime minister in France, a move that aligns with Macron’s inclusive approach to governance.

His civil partnership with Stéphane Séjourné, a member of the European Parliament for Macron’s Renaissance party, further highlights the diversity within the French political landscape.

Describing his appointment as a bold move, Attal stated, “The youngest president in [French] history is appointing the youngest prime minister in [French] history. I want to see it as a symbol of audacity,” promising to “free up France’s potential.”

As he prepares to form a new government, Attal expressed his commitment to continuing Macron’s pro-business initiatives while focusing on addressing the concerns of the youth and advancing the education sector.

A source at the Elysée characterized Attal as a symbol of the young “Macron generation,” emphasizing that his appointment is a return to the fundamentals of the president’s centrist politics.

However, the source also noted that making Attal prime minister is part of the broader strategy to combat populism, which has gained strength in France ahead of the European elections where Macron’s party trails behind Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (RN) in polls.

Jordan Bardella, the 28-year-old president of RN, known for his heated TV debates with Attal, criticized Macron’s move, accusing him of attempting to capitalize on Attal’s popularity to alleviate the challenges facing his presidency.

“By appointing Gabriel Attal, Emmanuel Macron wants to cling to his popularity in opinion polls to alleviate the pain of an interminable end to his reign,” Bardella remarked, highlighting the political tensions surrounding the decision.

Attal’s rise to popularity has been swift, particularly during his five months as the Minister of Education, where he defended a hard line on authority and secularism. His initiatives, including banning girls in state schools from wearing abayas and experimenting with school uniforms, resonated with the public, making him the most popular minister in the government.

Macron, in a recent statement, expressed his confidence in Attal’s energy and engagement, counting on him to restore the spirit of 2017, the year of Macron’s first election when he vowed to revolutionize French politics.

Since 2022, Macron’s second term has been marked by turbulence in a divided parliament, having lost his absolute majority shortly after being re-elected.

Attal, who also served as the budget minister, gained widespread recognition as the government spokesperson during the Covid-19 pandemic, earning a reputation as a master of political communication.

A calm and careful speaker, Attal has demonstrated his ferocity in political TV debates, particularly against the far right.

Macron, in his New Year address, outlined his goals for the remainder of his presidency, including bringing France back to full employment and initiating what he called a “civic re-armament” to restore authority and counter what he perceives as a collapse in civility and a fragmentation of society.

Despite his earlier association with the centrist wing of the left’s Socialist party, Attal left the party in his 20s to support Macron’s centrist project in 2017. Viewed as a defender of centrist politics in France, he has recently reached out to members of parliament in the rightwing party Les Républicains, recognizing their support as crucial for passing legislation.

Macron’s decision to replace the former prime minister Élisabeth Borne and reshuffle the government is not seen as a fundamental political shift.

Sylvain Maillard, head of Macron’s Renaissance party in parliament, stated that Attal could be relied on to “faithfully” carry Macron’s project for the country.

The president’s attempt to move beyond a challenging year, marked by unpopular pension changes and a divisive immigration law, reflects the broader ideological battle between Macron’s centrist vision and the far-right ideas championed by Le Pen and the radicalized right.

Attal’s journey into politics began over a decade ago with an internship in the health ministry, culminating in his ascent to the second-highest office in the French Republic.

Born in Clamart in 1989, Attal grew up in Paris, attending the École alsacienne and later graduating from Sciences Po University. His early political engagement saw him joining the Socialist Party at 17, supporting Ségolène Royal in the 2007 presidential election.

In 2012, Marisol Touraine, a former health minister, offered Attal a job that led to a full-time position in the ministry at the age of 23. Joining Macron’s “En Marche!” movement in 2016, he was elected to the National Assembly in 2017, becoming the youngest member of government ever under the post-war Fifth Republic.

Attal’s tenure as a junior minister in the budget office, defense of Macron’s controversial pension reform bill, and his subsequent appointment as education minister marked critical phases in his political career.

As tensions at French public schools rose in recent years, with cases of violence between students and teachers prompting national debate, Attal’s commitment to tackling issues like bullying became evident.

Having experienced bullying himself, Attal has made it a priority to address this problem, aligning himself with First Lady Brigitte Macron, who shares a strong interest in the subject as a former teacher.

However, his most controversial move came with the ban on pupils wearing abayas, which sparked a nationwide debate on secular values.

The decision, seen as challenging France’s secular values, earned him a popularity boost among many right-wing voters, showcasing his ability to bridge political divides.

Attal’s popularity is further evidenced by a survey indicating that over a third of poll respondents support his potential appointment as prime minister.

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hoo? dun care. if it’s mini-macrony then it’s just another wacky globalist calling himself a “centrist”.

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