By Adrian Croft and Brian Love
PARIS French President Emmanuel Macron chaired the first meeting of a cross-partisan government on Thursday, uniting right-wingers, left-wingers, old hands and new faces in a team whose first goal is to win parliamentary elections in June.Those present included economy and budget ministers from the right, a TV environmentalist put in charge of ecology and energy, and a veteran Socialist who was defence minister in the preceding government but now has a Europe and foreign policy brief. The debut at the centrist leader's Elysee palace offices in central Paris followed publication of an opinion poll suggesting Macron's start-up party, Republic on the Move (REM), will come first in mid-June parliamentary elections; but it remained unclear whether he would win a majority.The Harris Interactive poll found Macron's share of the vote in the first round of the National Assembly elections on June 11 had risen - up three points from a similar poll on May 11 and up six points from a poll on May 7.But despite his 66-34 percent win against anti-EU anti-immigration nationalist Marine Le Pen last May 7, another poll sounded a cautionary note.Just 45 percent of voters have confidence in Macron's double act with prime minister Edouard Philippe - the lowest public confidence levels for French leaders starting their terms in at least the last 20 years, the Elabe poll said.
Philippe, like economy minister Bruno Le Maire, is a defector from France's main conservative party The Republicans (LR).Macron's election on May 7 smashed a traditional left-right grip on French politics to win the presidency, and has left both LR and the outgoing Socialists in some disarray.
In a morning radio interview, Philippe said 'progress' was the unifying theme of a government team that was built to last despite the apparent contrasts including the nomination of Le Maire and budget minister Gerald Darmanin on the finance side.The LR party those three left behind still hopes to win enough seats in the parliamentary elections on June 11 and 18 to deprive Macron of a majority and force him into a cohabitation.LR campaign leader Francois Baroin was evidently angry about the defections.
"This is not the spoils of war, it's a hostage taking," he said, suggesting that the ministers would have no freedom to do what they would want but would have to do Macron's bidding One other controversial appointment in the cabinet was that of Nicolas Hulot, a well-known TV environmentalist with no background as a politician despite having advised several previous governments.News of his appointment on Wednesday sent shares in dominant state power utility EDF sharply down amid concerns he might want to force the pace of change in France's nuclear-dominated energy mix.On Thursday, government spokesman Christophe Castaner sought to allay those concerns."A minister doesn't set conditions for a president or a prime minister," he told reporters, adding that Hulot will have to stick to Macron's programme. (Additional reporting by Laurence Frost; Editing by Andrew Callus and Ralph Boulton)
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Updated Date: May 18, 2017 21:58 PM