French President Emmanuel Macron has named François de Rugy as his new environment minister and Roxana Maracineanu as his sports minister, the Élysée Palace announced on Tuesday.
De Rugy, speaker of the National Assembly and a former green lawmaker now in the ruling LREM (La République en marche) party, is known as a pragmatist who backed Macron’s decision last year to delay the phased reduction of France’s nuclear energy. The environment minister post traditionally includes the energy portfolio.
With the new appointment, Macron hopes to stem a tide of troubles plaguing his presidency and re-energise his reform drive. Macron was forced into a cabinet reshuffle with the surprise exit of his former ecology minister, Nicolas Hulot, who said he despaired at what he felt were hollow commitments on environmental policy.
Resigning live on air, Hulot’s resignation was a setback for the 40-year-old French leader, who returned from the summer break already reeling from a bodyguard scandal and preparing to embark on a new wave of controversial economic reforms.
Just hours before the expected announcement of a new environment minister, Sports Minister Laura Flessel said she was resigning from the government for “personal reasons”.
“I will continue to be a faithful team mate of the president and prime minister, whose determination I admire and whose values and patriotism I share,” said Flessel, a former Olympic fencing champion and one of Macron’s most popular ministers.
She was replaced by swimmer Roxana Maracineanu, world champion in backstroke at the 1998 World Aquatics Championships.
For much of Macron’s first year in power, the former investment banker appeared untouchable, self-assured and unphased by his falling popularity as he pushed through investor-friendly reforms.
But economic growth has been slower than forecast. Macron sold the pro-business reform drive on promises that it will boost growth and jobs, but voters – from typically conservative pensioners to low-income workers – complain the president’s policies favour big business and the wealthy.
An impending reform of France’s tax collection methods that will mandate at-source monthly payments has also reportedly run into technical troubles.
“It wasn’t supposed to happen to this president. He promised to be audacious in his reforms, efficient in the exercise of power, and the embodiment of dignity. In his first few months the promise was kept, but now everything is going wrong,” the right-leaning Le Figaro said in an editorial on Monday.
Next up for his centrist government is tackling social spending – a delicate political balancing act as he seeks to restore credibility with left-leaning voters – just as sluggish growth puts pressure on the budget deficit and his popularity falls to new lows.
Macron’s election victory, which overcame France’s mainstream parties and halted the march of the far-right National Front party, delighted French business and urban, liberal voters.
But Macron has struggled to connect with common folk. An IFOP-Fiducial opinion poll on Tuesday showed just 31 percent of respondents were happy with his performance as support eroded across all ages on both the political left and right.
That is lower than his predecessor François Hollande at the same stage in his presidency. Hollande went on to become so unpopular he was the first president in France’s Fifth Republic not to run for re-election, with his poll numbers at one point dipping to 4 percent.
In a moment of humility, Macron on Monday acknowledged the challenges of his job to a class of young school students. “There are some days which are easy, and others which are not.”
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)