PARIS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday struck a self-critical tone about his governing style and a string of political missteps after reshuffling his government in an effort to reinvigorate his reform agenda.
Earlier, Macron named the head of his ruling party, Christophe Castaner, to the sensitive post of interior minister, moving to steady his administration after a series of resignations that have challenged the president’s authority.
“These last few months may have blurred the direction,” Macron said in a pre-recorded broadcast to the nation from his office at the Elysee presidential palace.
“My determination and my plain-speaking may have upset or shocked some of you, and I hear the criticisms,” he said.
Macron’s sharp tongue - he berated striking workers for “kicking up a bloody mess” and called critics of his labour law reforms “slackers” - has prompted accusations that he is an arrogant and patronising head of state.
Shortly before resigning two weeks ago as interior minister, Gerard Collomb, one of Macron’s earliest supporters, criticised what he called the president’s “lack of humility” and warned of hubris, a viewpoint opinion polls show is shared by many voters.
Although he offered no apology, Macron struck a more humble tone in his TV statement, pledging to set aside the “poison of division and instability” and inject new energy into his social and economic reform agenda.
“I know there is impatience, I share it,” he said. “Gradually, I’m sure, your daily life will get better because the government is on the right track and, above all, is getting to the root of problems.”
Macron had been expected to announce the cabinet 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.
Macron and his prime minister, Edouard Philippe, had been weighing the reshuffle for two weeks following Collomb’s resignation. His departure followed two other ministerial resignations just weeks earlier.
In the end, the appointment of Castaner, moving from the position of head of Macron’s political party, was the only high-profile change.
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, moved 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, dented partly by a sense among some voters that his policies - including the scrapping of a wealth levy and a cut in corporate taxes - favour the affluent.
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.”
Reporting by Michel Rose, Marine Pennetier and Jean-Baptiste Vey; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Luke Baker and Gareth Jones