With less than two years before the next presidential election, there has been strong speculation among politicians and commentators in Paris, on the fate of Edouard Philippe.
He served Mr. Macron faithfully as the prime minister, since the beginning of his mandate in 2017. A part of his beard turned dramatically white as one crisis followed another. But put next to a prime minister would be in agreement with the traditions of the France of the fifth republic: the presidents regularly to get rid of their heads of government to mark a new political direction.
Mr. Philippe, in addition, has fueled rumors that he may be fired or even resign as a candidate for mayor of his home city of Le Havre. It is in the lead after the first round of the local elections, and has promised, if he wins, to take up his post as mayor (which will be filled by a deputy, in the meantime) as soon as he ceases to be prime minister.
“If it [Macron] think someone else would be more useful as a prime minister, I will, in all faithfulness respect their choices,” said the Paris Normandie newspaper in an interview. “If the voters choose me, I’m going back to Havre later in May 2022, but may be much earlier.”
On the face of it, replacing his prime minister is a politically logical for Mr. Macron. Mr. Philippe was a politician of the centre-right, before the head of this government. It has never been a member of the Republic in The Market (LREM), the “neither right nor left” political party Mr. Macron formed before running successfully for president in 2017.
What is more, the Covid-19 in the event of a pandemic and the deep economic recession caused by a two-month lockout has forced the government to adopt policies that would have seemed radically socialist.
The French state has already deployed €136bn on measures to prevent corporate bankruptcies and mass unemployment. The deficit is expected to increase by 3 percent of gross domestic product in 2019, more than 11% of GDP this year, while the public sector debt will rise from 20 percentage points to more than 120% of GDP.
“You can’t be more socialist,” said Dominique Reynié, a political professor at Sciences Po. “Even Keynes would be shocked.”
These measures, however, are similar to those adopted by other governments around the world to face the most serious economic crisis in a generation. They do not necessarily mean that Mr Macron — or Mr. Philippe deviate from their initial goal of France’s modernisation and reform of its economy.
“We are going to deal with the professionals of the crisis facing the economic crisis,” said an official who works with Mr. Macron and asked to remain anonymous. “On the one hand, the president is taking what he calls a new path, but on the other hand, he wants the continuity and will not abandon its reforms.”
Mr. Macron should reshuffle of his government, and to announce more details of its economic plans at the beginning of July, after the second round of the local elections of 28 June. Some ministers — such as Christophe Castaner, the interior minister who has lost the confidence of the police — are almost certain to be replaced.
But the “new way” for the economy may not be as novel, as advertised.
In his speech on Sunday, in which he largely ended the country of the coronavirus birth, Mr. Macron has echoed earlier statements of policy, when it has ruled out raising taxes and says that the only way to build a sustainable economy has been to work more to produce more. The pension reform plan that triggered the mass trade union protests may be revised or renegotiated, but it is unlikely to be totally abandoned.
“I’m not sure that there really is a “new way”, ” said Nicolas Bouzou, economist at Asterès, a consulting firm. “It may just be marketing. What he says is not out of line with what he has done since the beginning of his five-year term . . . In the end, it is not clear that we are facing a major turning point.”
Mr. Macron four words in order for the economy, the “strong, eco-friendly, sovereign and solidarity [showing solidarity]” — have all been foreshadowed in the previous legislation, and speeches. By “sovereign”, for example, Mr. Macron means investing in high-technology industries in France and in the EU to avoid excessive dependence on China or the united states – a policy he has advocated since before the pandemic.
If Mr. Macron wants to continue its economic reforms, it may, therefore, decide after all this that Mr. Philippe remains the best prime minister to carry out the task.
And there are three other reasons that the president hesitate to leave him. First of all, Mr. Philippe popularity, unlike Mr Macron, has strongly increased over the Covid-19 in the event of a pandemic, and gave credibility to the administration. In an Ifop study Benchmark survey at the beginning of June, the prime minister and the president registered approval rate 53% and 40%, respectively.
Secondly, if Mr. Philippe won The Haven and left the central government, it could become a fearsome rival candidate for the presidency when Mr. Macron is in search of re-election in 2022.
The last problem, said Mr. Bouzou is that there is no obvious solution: “We don’t know who could replace him.”