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The POV: France's New PM Gabriel Attal

Updated: May 23

Following months of protests on the streets of Paris in response to pension reforms and instances of violence, such as the shooting of 17-year-old muslim Nahel Merzouk by a Police officer in Nanterre, President Macron's image has been dashed and battered. 

To add insult to injury, Marine Le Pen and her “National Rally” Party continues to encircle their political rival, as their anti-Islam and anti-immigrant stances gallop across political ground, emboldening the disturbing rise of the far-right and populist movements within the European Union’s heartland members.

According to Politico’s Poll of Polls (as of the 15th of December 2023) only 30% of voters approve of Macron, whilst a staggering 68% do not. 

In response, President Macron has offered the scalp of Former French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, who, as the Head of Government, was the channel through which pension reform was pushed. 

Her stoic and firm demeanour was what earnt her respect within the ranks, and acted as a counter-balance to the ground-breaking, ambitious President. However, as we know very well, in politics those with ambition who notice that they are becoming unpopular will shove anyone under the bus to try and get their ratings back. 

This was proven when President Macron announced his new Prime Minister on X, alluding to the “excellence and audacity” of 2017, when Macron was swept into power with a landslide win against Le Pen. 

Well, let’s find out who France’s new Prime Minister is, and whether he can bring back the good old days of Macronmania. 

Gabriel Attal was born in March 1989, making him the youngest French PM in history at just 34. This has drawn obvious comparisons to Emmanuel Macron becoming France’s youngest President in 2017, at just 39. 

Also, Attal is France’s first openly gay head of Government; bringing a new, modern character to his role and of course acting as a role model for France’s LGBTQ+ community. To compound this, polls reveal Attal is popular, and more importantly, in his meteoric rise through French politics, he has emerged as a consequential Minister.

Let us first examine Attal’s background. His parents, Yves Attal and Marie de Couriss, were both part of the film industry. Furthermore, while his father was of Jewish descent, his mother was from an Orthodox Christian family, providing for a potential diversity of religious thought and ways of life. Also, given the prominence of the film industry in France, Attal was given a platform to achieve. 

He attended the École Alsacienne private school in Paris and went on to graduate from Sciences Po University with a Masters in Public Affairs.

Following a bright education, Marisol Touraine, a previous Health Minister and a childhood friend of Attal’s mother, offered Attal an internship at the French Health Ministry at the age of 23. 

His political activity began at the age of 17 when he became a member of the Socialist Party, up until he joined the Macron “En Marche” train in 2016, becoming a member of the National Assembly a year later. This underscores Attal’s left-wing foundation, but perhaps a more modern and dynamic version of it - thus Macronmania, with quiet tunes of “Things can only get better” must be Attal’s cup of tea. 

Despite becoming Deputy Education minister just six years after kicking off his internship at the Health Ministry solidified his grip on the greasy pole, his name was built during the COVID pandemic during which he was a Government spokesperson.

His big break came in July 2023, when staying loyal to Macron and his pension reform was rewarded with the keys to the Ministry of Education. His time as the responsible Minister underlined what I view as the “consequential” aspect of the Attal political package.

In the last few years, students have threatened and killed their teachers, with it coming to a head in October 2020, when a radicalised student beheaded former teacher Samuel Paty in a Paris suburb.

Thus his decisions could carry national interest and concern. Just months into the job, Attal chose to ban abayas, a loose overgarment worn by muslim women and girls. This move provoked controversy and criticism, but scored popularity with the right-wing. 

In my view, I can’t particularly understand how this action would address violence within schools, which has actually been capturing the headlines and mattering to families across France. However, a more effective initiative of Attal’s, having been bullied at school himself, has been to connect with first lady Birgitte Macron on the issue of bullying in school, with Mrs Macron having been a teacher.

Now, with his face well-known, a considerable CV for a politician of his age and a ground-breaking character, it does seem Gabriel Attal would be an influential and dynamic Head of Government, putting a line in the sand, from the austere and the unpopular of the Borne Premiership. 

Also, with strong popularity, Attal has already been singled out as the favourite for the Renaissance/En Marche! Candidate spot to succeed Emmanuel Macron when his second term ends in 2027.

However, all this hope and ground-breaking, comes down to one thing, can Gabriel Attal hold back the populist tide? Can he upset Le Pen’s third go at the Elysee Palace?

I don’t know to be honest, I only found out who he was two days ago!

Image: Selbymay

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