France's Macron Picks Elisabeth Borne As New Prime Minister

French Labour Minister Elisabeth Borne attends a news conference after a meeting with business federations about when crisis support measures should be wound down, at the Bercy Finance Ministry in Paris, France, August 30, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

French President Emmanuel Macron picked Labour Minister Elisabeth Borne as his new prime minister on Monday as he prepares for legislative elections in June -only the second time in 30 years that a woman has got the job.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Jean Castex handed in his resignation, paving the way for a cabinet overhaul after Macron's re-election in April.

Macron, who needs to show he has heard the frustrations of voters expressed by low turnout and big support for the far right and far left, has been looking for premier with green and social policy credentials.

Such a profile could help counter the challenge mounted by hard-left veteran Jean-Luc Melenchon who achieved a strong third place in the presidential election, giving him the opportunity to rally a broad coalition of left-leaning parties in the June 12-19 parliamentary vote.

Borne, 61, will be the first woman named as prime minister since Edith Cresson briefly occupied the office during the presidency of Socialist leader Francois Mitterrand in the early 1990s.

"It was really time there was another woman (in that position) and I know Mrs Borne is a remarkable person with a lot of experience...I think it is a very good choice," Cresson told BFM television.

A soft-spoken career bureaucrat who served numerous Socialist Party ministers before joining Macron's government, Borne had a brief stint as environment minister in 2019 when she pushed through bicycle-friendly policies.

She then took charge of the Labour Ministry and oversaw negotiations with unions that resulted in a cut to unemployment benefits for some job seekers.

On her watch, unemployment fell to its lowest level in 15 years and youth unemployment to its lowest level in 40 years.

Borne's deep inside knowledge of the workings of the state will help Macron push through more difficult reforms. She will be tasked with staring down France's muscular unions to oversee his most contested election pledge: raising the retirement age.

"Mrs Borne is against raising minimum wages and for retiring at 65. Here we go for a new season of social mistreatment," Melenchon said on Twitter.

A discreet technocrat who has never run for public office, Borne burnished her credentials as a steely negotiator against the trade unions during Macron's first term.

As transport minister in 2017, she held out against weeks of strikes and demonstrations to end a generous pension and benefits system for SNCF railway workers.

"She is a real workaholic, someone who can push on until 3 in the morning and be back again at 7 a.m.," a former Borne staffer said.


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