34-year-old Gabriel Attal named Prime Minister of France

Source: Aljazeera.com 

French President Emmanuel Macron has appointed Gabriel Attal as the country’s new prime minister, making him the youngest and first openly gay official to hold the position.

The 34-year-old education minister was named to the post on Tuesday, and is one of the country’s most popular politicians, according to recent opinion polls.

‘’I know I can count on your energy and your commitment,” Macron posted on the social medial platform X in a message to Attal.

Attal replaces outgoing Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne who resigned on Monday amid a cabinet reshuffle as Macron hopes to give new momentum to the final three years of his presidency.

Under the French political system, the prime minister is appointed by the president and is held accountable to the parliament. Attal will be in charge of implementing domestic policy, most notably economic measures, and coordinating the government’s team of ministers.

Macron has had a year of thorny challenges, after pushing unpopular pension and immigration reforms in 2023. His move to get Attal on board is being seen as a boost of popularity before the European Parliament elections in June.

‘Rising star’

“Attal, by all accounts, is an interesting choice, across the political spectrum,” said Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from Paris, adding that the young prime minister is “something of a surprise nomination”.

The 34-year-old is considered a “rising star” in French politics and “clearly Emmanuel Macron is hoping that Gabriel Attal is going to help revitalise his government,” she said.

“Gabriel Attal is a bit like the Macron of 2017,” said Member of Parliament Patrick Vignal, referring to when Macron first took office as the youngest head of state in modern French history.

“Most politicians and MPs do agree that [Attal] is a very skilled and good communicator, that he is an ambitious politician,” Al Jazeera’s Butler said.

“How he will be as a prime minister, though, remains to be seen. It’s certainly going to be challenging for him because a big problem for French President Emmanuel Macron is he has no parliamentary majority. So any prime minister has a very difficult task to try and bring all sides together in order to try and push through any legislation on behalf of the president.”

Macron has faced off against a more turbulent parliament after he lost an absolute majority shortly after being reelected in 2022.

Opinion polls show the president is trailing far-right leader Marine Le Pen’s party by around eight to 10 percentage points.

A familiar face

Attal rose to prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic, when he was named government spokesperson, and has made appearances in public with ease.

While young, Attal still has a lengthy history in French politics, joining the Socialist Party when he was 17. He would later be named as a junior minister in the Ministry of Economics and Finance, before being made education minister in 2023.

Despite his left-leaning past, Attal’s first move as education minister was to ban the Muslim abaya dress in state schools, making him popular among conservatives.

He was outed as gay by an old school associate in 2018, when he was in a relationship with Stephane Sejourne, Macron’s former political adviser.

French opposition leaders see Attal’s appointment as hardly momentous, even counterproductive.

“Elisabeth Borne, Gabriel Attal or someone else, I don’t care; it will just be the same policies,” Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure told France Inter radio.

“By appointing Gabriel Attal … Emmanuel Macron wants to cling to his popularity in opinion polls to alleviate the pain of an interminable end to his reign,” said Jordan Bardella, the 28-year-old leader of Le Pen’s National Rally party. “Instead, he risks taking the short-lived education minister with him in his fall.” Attal will go toe-to-toe in advance of the European elections against Bardella.

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