The Curious Case of the Seemingly AWOL French Prime Minister

After a humiliating European defeat Sunday comes a great hush from the Palais Élysée … oui, the calm before the coming storm.

Ludovic Marin, pool via AP, file
President Macron and the French prime minister when he was the education minister, Gabriel Attal, at Arras, October 13, 2023. Ludovic Marin, pool via AP, file

Where in the world is Gabriel Attal? Not only had President Macron not informed his young prime minister of his intention to dissolve l’Assemblée Nationale, the French parliament, ahead of his decision to do so on Sunday, but in the aftermath of the body blow to the European left, Mr. Attal is nowhere to be found. 

The absence is richly symbolic, because in the Fifth Republic it is the president who wields most of the power, and his or her choice of prime minister is as expendable as last year’s Paris fashions. Right now, however, there is a lot more than haute couture at stake. 

French media reported that Mr. Attal has been largely absent from the public eye, a perceptible dodging of the cameras considering the roller coaster ride in French politics that started with the drubbing Mr. Macron’s Renaissance party took in Sunday’s European parliamentary elections. It is ongoing: on Tuesday, the French Républicain party announced it wants to form an alliance with the National Rally. The momentum of a party once regarded by many as electoral poison now appears to be unstoppable.

A French source told the Sun that microphones set up in the courtyard of the  Hôtel Matignon — not an actual hotel but the official residence of the French prime minister, on the Left Bank —  were squirreled away on Sunday night without even being used. Contrary to custom, the prime minister’s office had not as of Tuesday released its weekly agenda and a WhatsApp group that normally informs journalists of Mr. Attal’s public activities has, according to the source, gone silent. 

Only 35, half Jewish, and openly gay, Mr. Attal’s appointment last January was widely seen as Mr. Macron’s counterpoint to the National Rally’s young buck party president, the meteorically rising 28-year-old Jordan Bardella. It was, though, one of Mr. Macron’s growing list of gambles that is not only not paying off, but putting him deeper into political debt. 

Even the most blasé Parisians know that in politics if you’re not an asset then you might be a liability — that’s likely the reason why Mr. Attal was kept in the dark about the parliament’s dissolution. This is the man who, only last month, told reporters that “the President of the Republic does not talk about dissolution” of parliament.

Cue the political infighting that now, as much as the National Rally’s thunderbolt success in Sunday’s vote, threatens to collapse the now rudderless Renaissance: the interior minister reportedly knew in advance about Mr. Macron’s decision to close up parliament while Mr. Attal was left in the dark.   

This gets even better — or worse — as politics in France takes on a gladiatorial dimension perhaps best left to the young and virile. News channel BFM-TV reported on Monday that, fearing the National Rally’s victory that eventually came to pass on Sunday, Mr. Attal suggested that President Macron take responsibility for the defeat and resign. According to that report, which has not been independently verified, Mr. Attal said “I am the fuse, I want to blow tonight.”

All these power dynamics are unfolding rapidly and in real time, as both Marine Le Pen and Mr. Bardella lick their chops ahead of the snap French parliamentary elections Mr. Macron has called for June 30, with the run-off vote already slated for July 7. 

The National Rally is projected to win that election, and handily. That is according to a new survey undertaken by French television station M6 and radio station RTL. According to that poll, National Rally is poised to garner up to 265 seats in parliament, a huge uptake from the present 88. While that is not quite enough to secure an absolute majority, trouble for Macron looms because the number of his Renaissance deputies is projected to collapse: down to as little as 125 from the current 250. 

Time is nigh to recall that France is not only the country that gave the world wonders like a thousand dollar cheese and the Citroën Grand Pallas, but also the guillotine. Figuratively at least, that unforgiving blade never left the Place de la Concorde. 

But there is no concord in France right now, only acrimony. Before Sunday Mr. Macron staked his entire political reputation on the highly debatable belief that the Europe Union is “good” (his word) for France. But most people feel left behind by the accumulated pretensions and predations of the continental superstate — one that failed to stop Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine and that fails to compete with Communist China but that  is more than happy to declare war on glitter

While Mr. Macron was gaily tossing around new acronyms, the tidal wave of Eurosceptic French men and women, of all ages, was building, and it is presently crashing over Paris. 

Le Monde reports that “by playing with fire, Macron could end up burning himself and dragging the country into the blaze” — and it increasingly looks like Ms. Le Pen, with the able assistance of the puckish Mr. Bardella, will be there to put out the fire. 

Before that, though, could come a consequential vote of no-confidence in the government that could precipitate Mr. Macron’s resignation. His prime minister may already be just a footnote, but the Napoleon-adoring president could soon be hopping that bullet train to obscurity, too. 

The New York Sun

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