New team in Paris faces urgent Pacific crises

Just three months before New Caledonia’s next referendum on self-determination, French President Emmanuel Macron has reshuffled his Cabinet in Paris, appointing a new Prime Minister and ministers responsible for France’s overseas collectivities. The new team in Paris comes to office as New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Wallis and Futuna face major economic challenges during the global coronavirus pandemic, with border closures, loss of travel routes for national airlines and a collapse of tourism.

The departure of Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and the appointment of a new Overseas Minister and Minister for the Oceans have significant implications for the Pacific region.

When he came to office three years ago, President Macron and his newly created movement La Republique en Marche crushed the centre-Left and centre-Right parties that had dominated French politics for decades. But Macron’s initial popularity has dimmed. After years of austerity and attempted reforms of public services, Macron has faced widespread protests from trade unions and the Gilets Jaunes (yellow vest) movement. This year, France’s health and economic crisis has damaged Macron’s standing, after 169,400 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and nearly 30,000 deaths in France.

With only two years remaining in his current term as President, Macron has reshuffled his government. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe resigned and has been replaced by conservative technocrat Jean Castex. The choice of this former member of the Les Républicains party highlights Macron’s concern about his right flank, as he prepares for the 2022 Presidential elections. Macron faces another bruising contest with Marine Le Pen and the extreme-Right Rassemblement National (RN), and possibly a presidential bid by the outgoing Prime Minister.

All French governments have a minister responsible for relations with the “overseas collectivities” in France’s far-flung colonial empire. In the latest Cabinet reshuffle, there is a new Overseas Minister, 34-year-old Sébastien Lecornu.

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