Paris, France, May 18 – French President Emmanuel Macron’s new centrist party has stretched its lead in the polls ahead of parliamentary elections next month, adding to the positive momentum for the 39-year-old leader who chaired his first cabinet meeting Thursday.
A survey from the Harris Interactive group showed that 32 percent of people planned to vote for Macron’s Republique en Marche (REM) in the first round of parliamentary elections on June 11.
That was a three-point gain from the week before and a six-point gain from 10 days ago, with the rightwing Republicans and far-right National Front down slightly over the last week at 19 percent.
Macron faces a crucial four weeks having named his first 22-member cross-party government which held its inaugural meeting on Thursday morning at the presidential palace.
Led by rightwing Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, it includes a mix of Socialist, centrist and Republicans figures as well as newcomers including an Olympic fencing champion and a star environmentalist. Half are women.
Philippe told France Inter radio on Thursday that the cabinet had been chosen to last and was “in line with the political renewal that we are in the process of putting in place.”
An Elabe poll showed 61 percent of French people approving of the new faces, many of whom were taking their first steps in public life.
There could be slight changes after the parliamentary vote, however. Six ministers running for office have been told they will have to forfeit their posts if they fail to get elected.
French newspapers saw the choice of Philippe as prime minister and the handing of important economic portfolios to rightwingers Bruno Le Maire and Gerald Darmanin as a clear indication of Macron’s priorities.
“Macron on the move to the centre-right,” headlined right-leaning newspaper Le Figaro, while left-leaning Liberation headlined its coverage of the cabinet line-up “Mostly of the right.”
Having been economy minister under his predecessor as president, Socialist Francois Hollande, Macron was accused by his critics of being too left-wing during the vicious election campaign.
– Leftwing resistance –
France’s youngest ever president, who defeated far-right leader Marine Le Pen on May 7, is hoping to sink the traditional parties in June’s parliamentary elections by building a new centrist force.
His aim is to win a majority with REM and its allies which would enable him to push through his ambitious plans to overhaul labour regulations, social security, schools and pensions.
He also wants to cut corporate taxes, trim public spending and launch a new 50-billion-euro ($55.5-billion) public investment fund to spur growth, but is likely to face fierce resistance from trade unions and leftwingers.
Socialist party chief Jean-Christophe Cambadelis said that Macron’s government “of the right and for the right” would “imperil protections for workers, drastically reduce the number of civil servants and smash public services.”
Macron will be helped, however, by a gradually improving economy.
The unemployment rate hit its lowest level since 2012 in the first quarter of the year at 9.6 percent, official data showed on Thursday. This is still double the rate of Germany or Britain.
Many analysts remain sceptical about Macron’s ability to win a parliamentary majority with a slate of mostly new candidates, but he himself has expressed confidence that voters will give him the seats he needs to govern effectively.
Because of France’s two-round voting system it is difficult to project seat numbers in the 577-member National Assembly.
Any candidate who wins more than 12.5 percent of registered voters in the first round goes through to a decisive second round on June 18.
Macron’s party confirmed its final list of candidates on Thursday, half of whom have never before held elected office in line with his pledge to bring fresh faces into politics.
Only 28 of them are sitting MPs.
– Visiting the troops –
On Friday, he will turn his attention to the global anti-terror fight.
His second foreign visit as president, after Berlin on Monday, will take him to the west African country of Mali, to meet French troops from a force combatting local jihadist groups.
Terrorism was also on the agenda of his first phone call Thursday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Putin had appeared to back Macron’s far-right opponent Marine Le Pen, hosting her for talks during the race which was marked by a large-scale hacking attack on Macron’s campaign that was blamed on Russia.
After Macron’s election, Putin urged him to bridge the deep rift between their countries and work together in the face of the “growing threat of terrorism and violent extremism”.