Emmanuel Macron, looking innocent after having compromised his promise to feminists to name a female PM.
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Macron said he wanted a female Prime Minister, so why did he pick a man?

Macron says he's a feminist. He must do better for women in his cabinet

He repeated it several times on the campaign trail: Emmanuel Macron, France’s newly elected and youngest ever President, is a self-declared feminist. During the months leading to his election on 7 May, Macron was vocal about gender balance within his campaign team and his party’s parliamentary candidates. Crucially, he declared in March that he “wished” his Prime Minister would be a woman.  

But in the week leading to his inauguration last Sunday, of half a dozen names rumoured to be in the running for “Matignon” (the Prime Minister’s residence), only two were women. Then the Elysée palace announced yesterday that Macron had chosen Edouard Philippe, the Republican mayor of the northern city of Le Havre.

“I will choose the most capable, the most competent,” Macron had said at the time he wished it would be “a woman.” Was there no woman Macron thought would be “capable” enough to earn the title of Prime Minister? French presidents have total freedom to name their PM – even, as Macron has done, so called “cohabitations” in which the President and the PM are from different parties.

And it's not just Philippe's gender that suggests an early watering down of Macron's committment to equality, it's the new Prime Minister's voting record. He abstained on the law legalising gay marriage and voted against allowing adoption for gay couples.

Macron successfully campaigned on a “neither left nor right” platform, but he very much needs the votes of the actually right-wing who make up half of the French electorate to win June’s parliamentary elections and rule effectively. Hence the moderate Republican Prime Minister: Edouard Philippe is follower of Alain Juppé, the most liberal candidate who ran (and lost) in the Republican primary. (Juppé himself wasn’t exactly PM material: Macron’s first reform is set to be the “moralisation of politics”, and Juppé was sentenced to two years away from public office for misuse of public money in the early 2000s).

Yet even with the necessity of naming a Republican Prime Minister, the party is not short of experienced women qualified for the job. Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, a Republican and former minister under Nicolas Sarkozy who ran for mayor of Paris in 2014, was one of the names that circulated last week. She has expressed support for Macron and called on the centre-right to “accept the hand he is offering” to rule France. The centrist MEP Sylvie Goulard, who backed Macron at the beginning of his presidential bid and organised his meeting with Angela Merkel last March, was another.

France has had only one female Prime Minister: Edith Cresson led Francois Mitterrand’s government for just one year, from May 1991 to April 1992. Michèle Alliot-Marie, the first woman to be named Interior Minister in 2007, also became the first female Foreign Affairs Minister in 2010, both during Sarkozy’s mandate. She remains the only woman to have held either position.

Until September at least, Macron will sit alongside Germany’s Angela Merkel, his closest international ally, and will face Theresa May’s in Brexit negotiations. He’s already compromised the ideal he set himself – a female PM. The least he can do, both for his own record and for France’s, would be to ask Edouard Philippe to pick a woman as Foreign Affairs Minister.

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Emmanuel Macron's "moralisation of politics" comes at a heavy price for his allies

"Fake" jobs in French politics, season 3 episode 1.

Something is rotten in the state of France. No political party – at least none that existed before 2016 – seems immune to the spread of investigations into “fake” or shady parliamentary jobs. The accusations sank centre-right candidate François Fillon’s presidential campaign, and led to Marine Le Pen losing her parliamentary immunity in the European parliament (and proxy wars within her party, the National Front). Both deny the allegations. Now the investigations have made their way to the French government, led by Edouard Philippe, Emmanuel Macron’s Prime Minister.

On Wednesday morning, justice minister François Bayrou and secretary of state for European affairs Marielle de Sarnez announced their resignation from Philippe’s cabinet. They followed defence minister Sylvie Goulard’s resignation the previous day. The three politicians belonged not to Macron's party, En Marche!, but the centrist MoDem party. Bayrou, the leader, had thrown his weight behind Macron after dropping his own presidential bid in April.

The disappearance of three ministers leaves Emmanuel Macron’s cross-party government, which includes politicians from centre left and centre right parties, without a centrist helm. (Bayrou, who has run several times for the French presidency and lost, is the original “neither left nor right” politician – just with a less disruptive attitude, and a lot less luck). “I have decided not to be part of the next government,” he told the AFP.

Rumours had been spreading for weeks. Bayrou, who was last part of a French government as education minister from 1993 to 1997, had been under pressure since 9 June, when he was included in a preliminary investigation into “embezzlement”. The case revolves around whether the parliamentary assistants of MoDem's MEPs, paid for by the European Parliament, were actually working full or part-time for the party. The other two MoDem ministers who resigned, along with Bayrou, also have assistants under investigation.

Bayrou has denied the allegations. He has declared that there “never was” any case of “fake” jobs within his party and that it would be “easy to prove”. All the same, by the time he resigned, his position as justice minister has become untenable, not least because he was tasked by Macron with developing key legislation on the “moralisation of politics”, one of the new President’s campaign pledges. On 1 June, Bayrou unveiled the new law, which plans a 10-year ban from public life for any politician convicted of a crime or offence regarding honesty and transparency in their work.

Bayrou described his decision to resign as a sacrifice. “My name was never pronounced, but I was the target to hit to attack the government’s credibility,” he said, declaring he would rather “protect this law” by stepping down. The other two ministers also refuted the allegations, and gave similar reasons for resigning. 

Macron’s movement-turned-unstoppable-machine, En Marche!, remains untainted from accusations of the sort. Their 350 new MPs are younger, more diverse than is usual in France – but they are newcomers in politics. Which is exactly why Macron had sought an alliance with experienced Bayrou in the first place.

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