France: Castex takes over as New PM

Former French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe (C-L) and newly appointed Prime Minister Jean Castex (C-R) stand on the steps of the Matignon Hotel in Paris on July 3, 2020 prior to the handover ceremony.
Former French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe (C-L) and newly appointed Prime Minister Jean Castex (C-R) stand on the steps of the Matignon Hotel in Paris on July 3, 2020 prior to the handover ceremony. © Thomas Samson, AFP

France’s new prime minister, Jean Castex, warned on Friday that the coronavirus pandemic was not over and an economic crisis was already making itself felt, as he took the helm of President Emmanuel Macron’s government. “The economic crisis is already here,” Castex said, praising out going prime minister Edouard Philippe  outside the official premier’s residence. Macron named Castex earlier on Friday to launch a new phase of his presidency.

“Priorities will therefore have to evolve, ways of working will have to be adapted. We will have to unite the nation to fight this crisis that is setting in.” Castex also said he would continue the structural reforms undertaken by Philippe. Before a small crowd outside the residence, the former prime minister said he was “very happy” to “pass the torch” to Castex, whom he described as having the “open mind” and “firm hand” that he thinks France needs.

The new prime minister was drawn from the right-wing opposition to Macron’s centrist party, and was totally unknown to most in France until now.

But Castex, a former top aide to ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy, has been in charge of the country’s progressive emergence from the coronavirus lockdown, a policy greeted as a relative success by experts.

“Let’s be clear: I’m not here to seek the limelight. I’m here to get results,” Castex said in what was effectively his introduction to the general public during a prime-time interview on TF1.

He said he would present his political road map next week, and a wider cabinet overhaul is expected in the coming days. 

Macron has promised a “new course” for France to deal with the crisis, which has plunged France into its worst recession since World War II and left millions of people facing unemployment.

The former investment banker, who swept to power in 2017 on pledges to radically reform France, already has a wary eye on his 2022 re-election bid after months of protests and strikes that preceded the coronavirus outbreak.

While many analysts thought Macron would tack left or look farther afield for his new prime minister, Castex is a pure product of the French administrative elite, having attended the same ENA managerial university as Macron and Philippe.

“We might have expected a political shift, but this is a technocrat,” Christian Jacob, head of the conservative Les Républicains, told AFP, indicating that Castex would be cast out of the party.

His nomination comes after Philippe has pushed through a series of Macron’s controversial overhauls that sparked massive strikes as well as the fierce “yellow vest” anti-government revolt. (France 24)

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