PARIS — Emmanuel Macron has picked Renew Europe Group President Stéphane Séjourné as the country’s new foreign minister, the French presidency announced Thursday, as part of a widely expected government reshuffle.
Séjourné’s appointment is likely to have big repercussions for European centrists ahead of the EU election in June. The 38-year-old is a key operator in the Macron galaxy, running both the Renew group in the European Parliament and Macron’s Renaissance party in France; he had been widely expected to head his Renew list in the election.
Dutch MEP Malik Azmani, first vice president of the Renew Europe Group, will head the group following Séjourné’s departure, a press representative for Séjourné said.
In appointing Séjourné to the head of France’s prestigious diplomatic corps, Macron was rewarding a loyalist and a party strategist who has spent years far from the limelight, painstakingly building alliances in the corridors of Brussels and Strasbourg.
“It will create a vacuum in Renew,” said a political operative from another group who asked not to be named in order to speak candidly. “Séjourné would have been extremely important after the [European Parliament] election. Now he’s jumped ship.”
Under Séjourné, the foreign ministry is expected to be more involved in European affairs than under his predecessor Catherine Colonna. “He insisted on having ‘Europe and foreign affairs minister’ as his job title, because [forging] Europe as a powerhouse will be one of his priorities,” said a Séjourné aide.
It was understood that Colonna had been on her way out, seen as unable to make a mark on foreign affairs, regarded as the remit of the president.
Séjourné was appointed in a wide-ranging reshuffle meant to jump-start Macron’s flagging presidency. On Tuesday Macron named Gabriel Attal as France’s youngest-ever prime minister; Séjourné is Attal’s ex-partner. Their breakup, an open secret in French political circles, was made official on Thursday.
Macron is looking for a fresh start after a tumultuous 2023, a year marked by mass protests, urban riots, and rifts within his own camp. Key left-leaning Cabinet members voiced their displeasure after the government compromised with hardline conservatives on an immigration bill which the far-right described as an “ideological victory.”
Heavyweights stay on
While Attal will continue working with some of his former colleagues, Macron also notched some eye-catching scalps including Rachida Dati, a justice minister under Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency and a former MEP for the conservative Les Républicains party, who has been appointed culture minister.
Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, a key cabinet member whose presidential ambitions are well known in Paris, stays on as economy minister. Le Maire, Attal’s former boss back when the current prime minister was in charge of the French budget, has been at the helm of the French economy for six-and-a-half years.
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who had been eyeing the government’s top job and is mentioned as a potential contender for the next presidential election. Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu, Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau and Environment Minister Christophe Béchu also stay on.
The inclusion of Dati in the new government is a key move for the French political landscape, as she is a familiar figure on the right known for her blunt style of communication and lively opposition to Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.
Dati has been under formal investigation since 2021 on corruption allegations, suspected of having received €900,000 over three years from Renault for lobbying the European Parliament while she was an MEP, Le Monde and AFP reported. Dati has denied any wrongdoing.
The first Attal government also features expanded cabinet roles. Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra stays on and will handle preparations for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, but also picks up Attal’s former brief as education minister. Catherine Vautrin, a former Chirac official, replaces Aurélien Rousseau as health minister but will also head labor affairs.
Further appointments for lower-ranking cabinet positions are set to be announced on Friday.
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Nicholas Vinocur and Eddy Wax contributed reporting.