* Macron names party chief Castaner as interior minister
* Maintains left-right balance, signals eye on European vote
French President Emmanuel Macron reshuffled his government on Tuesday, naming the head of his ruling party to the sensitive post of interior minister and maintaining a left-right balance as he builds a broad base to fight the 2019 European elections.
Macron's immediate aim is to steady an administration after a series of resignations that have challenged his authority. He also wants to inject new energy into his social and economic reform agenda and reverse a slump in his popularity.
France's leader had been expected to announce the revamp last week before postponing it, a delay he said was to ensure the right decisions were made but which opponents said raised questions about the depth of experience in his party.
A Macron aide said there would be no shift in policy direction.
‘We have at the same time incoming names with a reputation in their areas of expertise, which will strengthen the government's efficiency, and others who have a broader profile,’ the official said.
Macron and his prime minister, Edouard Philippe, had been weighing the reshuffle for two weeks following the resignation of interior minister Gerard Collomb, one of Macron's earliest backers. Collomb's departure followed two other ministerial resignations just weeks earlier.
In the end, the appointment of Christophe Castaner as interior minister, moving from the position of head of Macron's political party, was the only high profile change.
Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who has spearheaded Macron's euro zone reform push, and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian retained their posts.
Nonetheless, other lower profile positions underlined Macron's ambitions to strengthen the broad base of his Republique En Marche party as he prepares to go head-to-head with France's far-right in next May's European elections.
Didier Guillaume, a former Socialist Party chief whip, moves into the job of agriculture minister. Franck Riester, a lawmaker belonging to a group which splintered from the centre-right Les Republicains after Macron blew apart the traditional mainstream parties last year, will head the culture ministry.
Macron's popularity has sunk in recent months as voter frustration has welled up over a leader many see as arrogant and the architect of policies that favour the affluent, including the scrapping of a wealth levy and a cut to corporate taxes.
The cabinet resignations and a scandal surrounding the violent conduct of a presidential bodyguard have distracted Macron, a 40-year-old former investment banker, from his push to overhaul the pension and unemployment benefit systems.
Opponents on the left and right have sought to depict Macron as a leader with diminished star power now paying the price for centralising authority and decision-making in the hands of a small inner circle, but he faces no immediate threat.
His parliamentary party holds a commanding majority in the National Assembly, his presidential term runs until 2022, and the opposition is divided.
Analysts, however, said a reshuffle alone may not be enough to draw a line under the challenging few months.
‘Past presidential terms have shown that there has been no tangible benefit from cabinet reshuffles,’ said Jerome Fourquet of pollster IFOP. ‘There is good reason to believe this will be the same.’
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