Updated: May 17, 2022 8:08:10 am
French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday picked Labour Minister Elisabeth Borne as his new prime minister as he prepares for legislative elections in June, the second time in 30 years that a woman has been appointed to the job.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Jean Castex handed in his resignation, paving the way for a cabinet overhaul after Macron’s re-election in April.
Macron, who needs to show he has heard the frustrations of voters expressed by low turnout and big support for the far right and far left, has been looking for a premier with green and social policy credentials.
Such a profile could help counter the challenge mounted by hard-left veteran Jean-Luc Melenchon who achieved a strong third place in the presidential election, giving him the opportunity to rally a broad coalition of left-leaning parties in the June 12-19 parliamentary vote.
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Borne, 61, will be the first woman named as prime minister since Edith Cresson briefly occupied the office during the presidency of Socialist leader Francois Mitterrand in the early 1990s.
A soft-spoken career bureaucrat who served numerous Socialist Party ministers before joining Macron’s government, Borne had a brief stint as environment minister in 2019 when she pushed through bicycle-friendly policies.
She then took charge of the Labour Ministry and oversaw negotiations with unions that resulted in a cut to unemployment benefits for some job seekers.
On her watch, unemployment fell to its lowest level in 15 years and youth unemployment to its lowest level in 40 years.
Borne’s deep inside knowledge of the workings of the state will help Macron push through more difficult reforms. She will be tasked with staring down France’s muscular unions to oversee his most contested election pledge: raising the retirement age.
“She is a real workaholic, someone who can push on until 3 in the morning and be back again at 7 a.m.,” said a former Borne staffer.
A discreet technocrat who has never run for public office, Borne burnished her credentials as a steely negotiator against the trade unions during Macron’s first term.
As transport minister in 2017, she held out against weeks of strikes and demonstrations to end a generous pension and benefits system for SNCF railway workers.
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