Macron reshuffles cabinet in home stretch to key EU ballot

Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, looks on as Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel departs following talks at Elysee Palace in Paris, France. (Bloomberg pic)

PARIS: France’s Emmanuel Macron named on Sunday Amelie de Montchalin as European Affairs Minister to replace Nathalie Loiseau who resigned last week to lead his party in the European Parliamentary elections in May.

He also picked long time aide Sibeth NDiaye as the new spokeswoman for the government.

Montchalin, 33, a lawmaker in the National Assembly who worked as an economist at Exane BNP Paribas according to her personal LinkedIn biography, will have the key task of guiding French policy as Britain potentially falls out of the European Union in less than two weeks.

NDiaye, 39, was born in Senegal and became a French citizen in 2016. She has worked with Macron since his days as Economy Minister in the Socialist government of President Francois Hollande and worked on his presidential campaign team.

She has held several posts in Socialist cabinets before becoming deputy head of communication in the president’s office. She replaces Benjamin Griveaux.

The government also named Cedric O to replace Digital Affairs Junior Minister Mounir Mahjoubi. NDiaye and O replace two Macron lieutenants who both aim to become Paris mayor and resigned to prepare for next year’s municipal elections.

The cabinet reshuffle comes as Macron is gearing up his troops for the May 26 EU parliament elections.

Polls show his LREM party neck-and-neck with Marine Le Pen’s euro-skeptic National Rally.

Voters will choose between rival slates of candidates, and Loiseau is first on LREM’s list making her sure to win a seat in the Strasbourg-based parliament.

The May vote will be the first popularity test for Macron since large-scale protests rocked the country late last year. After beating Le Pen in the 2017 presidential vote, Macron’s reform spree was derailed in November when so-called Yellow Vest protests disrupted the euro area’s second-largest economy.

Forced to shelve a tax increase and fork out 10 billion euros (US$11.3 billion) to boost purchasing power, Macron needs to convince investors he can quell discontent and fight Le Pen’s populist party.