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Macron Keeps Le Maire as Finance Chief in Signal of Continuity

Macron Keeps Le Maire as Finance Chief in Signal of Continuity
Emmanuel Macron, France's president, during a news conference on the sidelines of the Group of 20 (G-20) Leaders Summit in New Delhi, India, on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023. The Group of 20 isn’t the right place to seek diplomatic progress on ending Russia’s war in Ukraine, Macron said after Kyiv voiced frustration at the summit’s final communique this weekend.

French President Emmanuel Macron opted for continuity on economic policy by reappointing Bruno Le Maire as finance minister in a revamped government, prolonging a close partnership that has driven a pro-business reform agenda since the start of his presidency in 2017.

Le Maire will also take on responsibility for the energy transition in an expanded portfolio.

The decision came two days after Macron signaled he wanted fresh impetus in government by picking 34-year-old Gabriel Attal as the country’s youngest prime minister in modern history.

Other senior figures were also kept in place, with Gerald Darmanin remaining interior minister, Sebastien Lecornu holding onto his job as defense minister and Eric Dupond-Moretti continuing at the Justice Ministry.

Still, there were some newcomers and notable departures in the list read out by Macron’s chief of staff, Alexis Kohler, on Thursday. Among them, Stephane Sejourne, who chairs the Renew Europe group in the European Parliament, replaces Catherine Colonna as foreign minister.

Macron was reelected in 2022 on a pledge to pursue the reform platform crafted closely with Le Maire. But that plan has faced mounting challenges, starting with the loss of the president’s outright majority in the National Assembly, and underscored by months of strikes and protests over a law to raise the retirement age. Sticking with Le Maire suggests Macron is betting he can still get results and political dividends with his core economic philosophy.

The French republic’s longest-serving finance head was one of the key proponents of Macron’s other flagship overhauls, including deep cuts to corporate tax from 2018. He argued they were key to boosting investment, but faced criticism from the leftist opposition.

Attal himself served in a junior role in charge of the budget at the Finance Ministry, answering to Le Maire, before becoming education minister last year.

The finance minister will have a close ally in Attal’s inner circle as the new premier tapped Treasury head Emmanuel Moulin as his chief of staff. Le Maire described the economic heavyweight, who previously ran his cabinet, as “an exceptional colleague and loyal friend” with a total understanding of technical issues.

Le Maire has made no secret of his desire to remain in his post through several government overhauls.

Only on Monday, he invited hundreds of business leaders to the Finance Ministry to outline his priorities for more economic reforms in the coming months, just hours before Attal’s predecessor, Elisabeth Borne, resigned. Those plans included bills to cut bureaucracy and red tape for small businesses and further strengthen Paris as a global financial center.

Le Maire, who began his ministerial career in the conservative government of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, also said more unpopular reforms would be needed in 2024 to cut spending and welfare benefits for the unemployed.

One of the most vocal proponents of fiscal discipline in Macron’s government, Le Maire is also preparing spending cuts to repair public finances. His reputation suffered a sting last year when Fitch Ratings downgraded France, citing wide budget deficits.

On the international stage, Le Maire has pushed Europe to strengthen industrial policy and taken an uncompromising stance on trade issues with both China and the US. During Macron’s first term, he also sparred with Washington over taxation of large US tech companies.

Le Maire is widely seen as a potential candidate for the 2027 presidential election, in which Macron won’t be able to run because legislation doesn’t allow three consecutive terms.

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