Macron names France's first woman prime minister in 30 years

French President Emmanuel Macron named Elisabeth Borne, who previously served as his minister of labor and minister of transportation, as prime minister on Monday. The last woman to serve as prime minister resigned in 1992 after less than a year.

Christophe Ena/AP/File
Elisabeth Borne, then a junior minister, leaves the Elysee Palace in Paris in 2018. France's President Emmanuel Macron appointed Ms. Borne as the country's new prime minister on May 16, 2022.

Centrist politician Elisabeth Borne was appointed France’s new prime minister on Monday, becoming only the second woman in history to hold the post.

Ms. Borne, the labor minister in French President Emmanuel Macron’s previous government, succeeds Jean Castex, whose resignation on Monday was expected after Mr. Macron’s reelection last month to a second five-year term.

Ms. Borne spoke soon after her appointment, noting the emotions she felt at being selected for the highest office a woman has ever held in French political leadership.

“I would like to dedicate this nomination to all the little girls by telling them ‘Go after your dreams!’ Nothing should stop the fight for the place of women in our society,” she said.

Mr. Macron and Ms. Borne are expected to appoint a new French government in the coming days.

Mr. Macron’s choice of Ms. Borne was criticized by some left-wing politicians and their supporters. Firebrand far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon said her appointment marks “a new season of social and ecological mistreatment,” claiming on Twitter that her legacy amounted to “a reduction in the allowances of 1 million unemployed people.”

Ms. Borne’s first mission will be to make sure that Mr. Macron’s centrist party and its allies do well in France’s parliamentary election in June. The vote, scheduled for two rounds, will determine which group holds the majority of seats at the National Assembly, which has the final say over the Senate in France’s law-making process.

Mr. Macron also promised a bill addressing the rising cost of living in France, where food and energy prices are surging. It will be prepared by his new government and is expected to be presented just after the parliamentary election.

If Mr. Macron’s party wins a majority in the Assembly, Ms. Borne will then need to ensure that pension changes promised by the president are put into law, including raising the minimum retirement age from 62 to 65. The proposed changes have been criticized by workers, unions, and left-wing voters.

Mr. Macron also promised that the new prime minister would be directly in charge of “green planning,” seeking to accelerate France’s implementation of climate-related policies. Mr. Macron vowed to go “twice as fast” in his second term to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Ms. Borne has a mixed track record that has attracted criticism from the country’s left. As labor minister since 2020, she implemented changes making it harder for jobless people to get benefits and reduced monthly payments for some unemployed people.

In 2018, as France’s transport minister, she faced a major strike from the SNCF railway company against plans to open the train network to competition and end newly-hired employees’ right to retain jobs and benefits for life. She ultimately managed to pass the bill.

Yet Ms. Borne’s rise to power has been formidable, despite never having held elected office. Closer to France’s traditional left at the beginning of her career, she notably worked as chief of staff to then-Ecology Minister Ségolène Royal, under Socialist French President François Hollande.

She became CEO in 2015 of the state-owned transport company RATP, which operates the Paris metro.

She joined Mr. Macron’s centrist party in 2017. She was transport minister and then minister of ecological transition in Mr. Macron’s first government.

Ms. Borne is the second woman to hold the position of prime minister in the country after Edith Cresson, who served in 1991 and 1992 under Socialist President François Mitterrand. Ms. Cresson, amid rising prices and high unemployment, became very unpopular and remained in office for less than a year.

Earlier Monday, Mr. Castex came to the Elysée presidential palace to formally offer his resignation, which Mr. Macron accepted. In a tweet, Mr. Macron thanked Mr. Castex and his team, saying “he took action with passion and dedication to serve France.”

Mr. Castex had succeeded Edouard Philippe in July 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He sought to support businesses and revive France’s economy following the damage caused by the virus and successive pandemic lockdowns.

In France, it’s common for presidents to have more than one prime minister during their terms.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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