France has once again a female prime minister: Elisabeth Borne

Blog post by Dr. Hermann Farrugia

On Monday evening, President Emmanuel Macron finally made his choice: he replaced right-of-centre prime minister, Jean Castex at Matignon, with a female candidate. In fact, he opted for Elisabeth Borne as France’s incumbent at Matignon. Until then, Borne held the portfolio of Labour, Employment and Socio-Economic Integration. News of her appointment had been circulating since Emmanuel Macron’s victory at the presidential election. Her amply meritorious CV enabled him to tick several of his prioritised indispensable ‘boxes’.

The Head of State indeed wanted to have a top-competent techno-profile in place and “fully attached to his promised purchasing-power social programme, the ecology agenda and the productivity question”. But even more essentially, Macron this time round also wanted to entrust the reins of his third government to a woman, thirty years after President François Mitterrand in 1991 had handpicked Socialist Party MP Edith Cresson who had been the first and only French lady-politician to have held the position in France until then.

Looking closely at Elisabeth Borne’s CV , it’s fairly obvious that she conforms to a “techno” profile rather than to a strictly partisan political one. Born in Paris in 1961 to a pharmacist mother and a father who died a mere eleven years later, she stoically yet patiently climbed all the ladders of the Republic. A former student of the Ecole Polytechnique (class of 1981), she qualified with a National Degree in Mechanical Engineering studies. Elisabeth Borne did not go through the standard ENA, the classic course in Public Administration that the great servants of the state traditionally enroll to. Her career in the senior civil service earned her an image of “smart technician”, combining discretion, loyalty and respect to her colleagues and seniors alike. Borne is reputed to be more interested in the substance of pressing dossiers than in the political games that inevitably engulf them.

“I don’t necessarily see myself being labelled a hardened technocrat” she asserts. “Yet my own recipe does not tally or allow me to simply run around on TV stations to throw punchlines. That is not my method and it never will be,” Borne confided to ‘Le Figaro.’ The freshly installed Prime Minister of France always held ministerial status during the first quinquennium of President Macron during which time she personally led two major structural reforms.

Elisabeth Borne arrived in government in May 2017 as Minister for Transport. In mid-2019 she was appointed Minister of the Ecological and Inclusive Transition. In the Summer of 2020, with the arrival of Jean Castex at the Head of the Government, Borne changed her portfolio to that of Minister of Labour, Employment and Inclusion. She remains notably reputed for two major reforms, that of pensions and that of unemployment insurance, the latter successfully coming into effect as early as December 2021. No wonder that a former colleague in the Cabinet had assigned her a flattering label for her determined role and stoic personality:

“Elisabeth Borne, minister for impossible reforms turned possible”!

The new tenant at Matignon will now have to demonstrate her ability to lead a full but more concise Government team even though quite paradoxically she has never as yet had occasion to position herself as electoral candidate contesting and getting scrutinised in any election until now. As incumbent Prime Minister, Borne will inevitably have to do so for the first time next month. She will be running on the ticket of the recently rechristened ‘Renaissance’ Presidential Centrist Party Grouping for the oncoming June 12 and 19 Legislative elections and specifically on the listing of the constituency of Vire-Evrecy, in the Department known as Calvados, Normandy.

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