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French PM: surprised campaigner in Macron’s ‘sudden’ poll gambit

Attal made his unhappiness clear to the president
Attal made his unhappiness clear to the president - Copyright AFP RYAN COLLERD
Attal made his unhappiness clear to the president - Copyright AFP RYAN COLLERD
Anne Renaut

France’s premier has broken a conspicuous silence over President Emmanuel Macron’s calling of snap elections, while making clear his reservations about the surprise move that may cost him his job.

Installed earlier this year, 35-year-old Gabriel Attal is France’s youngest and first openly gay prime minister. 

But while he has fully committed to the campaign, he would be one of the shortest serving premiers if Macron’s gambit backfires.

Despite his lack of experience, Attal has since his appointment shown himself to be a natural communicator and has even been seen in some quarters as a potential successor to Macron.

But after the crushing defeat of Macron’s party at the hands of the far right in the European elections, he now has to wage a domestic legislative poll campaign he reportedly initially had no wish to fight.

Attal, usually ubiquitous across French media, had on Monday been conspicuously absent from the airwaves after the election was called.

When Macron made his televised address Sunday calling the elections in a shock move, Attal made no comment. He merely reposted Macron’s address on X while a lectern set up at the Matignon prime minister’s residence for a briefing was never put to use.

– ‘Quite angry’ –

Kept out of initial discussions about the possibility of calling snap elections in the wake of the European polls, Attal reportedly warned Macron of the “perilous” risks when he was finally informed.

Only on the job for half a year, Attal “has taken a big blow to the head” and “is quite angry”, said a ruling party MP, asking not to be named. 

In a meeting at the Elysee Palace on Sunday evening with leaders of the ruling party, Attal “said that he was ready to resign his government but supported the president’s decision”, said one participant. 

According to broadcaster BFMTV, he tried in vain to dissuade Macron from dissolving parliament by offering his resignation. 

“I do what I am told”, he confided on Monday to one of his interlocutors, who found him “fatalistic” but at the same time “lucid”. 

Now he is going to campaign, even if he knows that “there is a rejection of the president”, the source told AFP asking not to be named.

Attal had played a key role in the European election campaign, to the point of facing accusations of trying to upstage the head of the ruling party list, Valerie Hayer.

He was widely seen as getting the upper hand in a debate with 28-year-old far-right party chief Jordan Bardella, when he barged in on a discussion where Hayer was speaking, and even brandished a condom and Nintendo Switch in a bid to prove the benefits of Europe.

– ‘Avoid the worst’ –

On Tuesday morning, he finally broke cover to tell ruling party MPs he would do “everything” in his power to “avoid the worst”, adding that the far right was “at the gates of power” in France.

“I will fulfil my duty as prime minister to act in the service of the French people until the last minute,” he told the ruling Renaissance party MPs.

But in a sign of his disquiet with the move, he acknowledged that the election decision was “sudden” and “brutal” for MPs who would now have to campaign only two years after the last election was held in 2022.

Attal was due to give a prime time TV interview later Tuesday in his first comments to media and as the most popular figure in the government will be expected to play a major campaign role.

Several Renaissance MPs at the meeting called on Attal to fully engage in the campaign with Macron more in the background, participants told AFP. 

“They want it to be an Attalist campaign, not a Macronist one,” one said.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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