Multipolarity and Connectivity
Gabriel Attal: French President in 2027?

Gabriel Attal is the fourth Prime Minister of France whom President Macron has appointed during his tenure; unlike his predecessors, he has great political prospects, writes Igor Chernov, Associate Professor of the Department of World Politics at the Faculty of International Relations of St. Petersburg State University.

On the morning of January 9, 2024, the appointment of the youngest prime minister in the history of France’s Fifth Republic was announced: 34-year-old then-minister of education Gabriel Attal is not just a loyal Macronist, but even to some extent a “micro-Macron,” as the French media call him. He replaced Elisabeth Borne, who had lost the trust of the French as a result of her tough economic policies and uncompromising political style, as expressed in her government’s adoption of decrees on social problems without a vote in the National Assembly. Borne did her job professionally, but the president at the head of the government now needed a new charismatic politician who could provide his team and the Renaissance presidential party with a successful start to future electoral campaigns. This event was on the front pages of the world press for just one day; it actually immediately disappeared from the international information space, since it is obvious that the new prime minister, who currently represents the president’s party and is a figure subordinate to Macron, will not have any significant influence on the foreign policy priorities of modern France. But on the domestic political field, this reshuffling of figures is of fundamental importance. In fact, the selection of candidates from the ruling party for the 2027 presidential elections is beginning; according to the Constitution, Macron will no longer be able to take part.

Although Attal was formally born outside the borders of Paris (March 16, 1989, in the town of Clamart, 10 km southwest of the city limits), he spent almost his entire life in the capital, where he studied and worked. Gabriel grew up wealthy. His father came from a Sephardic family, was a lawyer, a journalist for the Le Monde newspaper and a film producer, and his mother has Russian-Greek roots, tracing her origins almost from the Golitsyn princes, and professes Orthodoxy. Gabriel himself received his higher education at the Faculty of Law of the University of Panthéon-Arras and at the prestigious Parisian Institute of Political Studies Sciences Po, receiving a master’s degree in public relations in 2013. Moreover, already in 2012, after a student internship in the National Assembly, Attal, at the age of 23, became an adviser to the Minister of Social Affairs and Health in the government formed by the French Socialist Party (FSP), which won the elections; Gabriel had joined the party at age 17.

Emmanuel Macron as the European Family’s ‘Enfant Terrible’
Irina Bolgova, Igor Istomin
The growth of the foreign policy activity of Emmanuel Macron finds other major EU players in their regrouping stage, write Valdai Club experts Irina Bolgova and Igor Istomin. While London, Berlin, and Brussels are focused on finding answers to domestic challenges, additional space is being freed for Paris to claim leadership. The problem is that French initiatives are poorly designed and poorly prepared diplomatically. Biting statements often take partners by surprise, but this does not increase their chances of implementation.

However, the young socialist soon left the party’s ranks in 2016, joining the new centrist party “En Marche !”, formed according to all the rules of political engineering for the young and promising politician Macron. The choice was made successfully — the very next year, the novice, but active and eloquent Macronist became a legislator in the National Assembly, the ruling party spokesman, and then the youngest member of the government. The press then mentioned his name among the so-called “janissaries” of Macron — young and talented politicians who are completely devoted to the new president and owe their careers to him. Having changed several leadership positions in July 2023, Attal finally became a full-fledged and influential member of the cabinet, being appointed Minister of Education in Borne’s cabinet. In this important position (the field of education always attracts public attention), Attal came to replace the colourful minority historian Pap Ndiaye, who was suspected of excessive sympathy for left-wing radical gender and racial theories. Therefore, it is not surprising that the popularity of the new minister in society began to grow rapidly due to the contrast between the “left radical” Ndiaye and the pragmatic and moderate Attal. A month later, the new minister banned the wearing of a traditional African Muslim garment, the abaya, in schools and began an active fight against violence and bullying among schoolchildren, which aroused the sympathy of a significant part of French society. Soon, according to public opinion polls (which very seriously influence Macron’s political decisions), Attal became one of the most popular members of the government, far ahead of Borne. Of course, it is still somewhat premature to talk about Attal’s serious political experience and weight, but in this case, the position of prime minister itself, as often happens, is a wonderful springboard for a future political career.

Attal has probably been tapped as the preliminary Macronist candidate for the presidency, but must confirm his ambitions with successful work as prime minister. In this case, while maintaining high ratings and gaining political “recognizability” in the broadest layers of French society and among the political elite abroad, Attal has a serious chance to become Macron’s heir. This is also favoured by the permanent crisis in the opposition centre-right and left party camps, as well as the continued unsystematic nature of far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who is guaranteed to make it to the second round of elections, but loses there to almost any alternative candidate.

Attal is similar to his political patron not only ideologically, but also stylistically. He is a representative of that France — rather, its middle class, which embraces Anglo-American style pragmatism and dynamism, aims at efficiency and rejects dirigisme, and is for the gradual dismantling of the so-called continental model of the welfare state in order to strengthen the competitiveness of the French economy. At the same time, he copies Macron’s style in his political representation and PR, emphasizing his youth and openness, good education and success, knowledge of foreign languages, as well as social progressivism. Thus, Attal is a typical representative of the political elite of the “post-party” generation of the “new French”.

Of course, in the three years remaining before the presidential elections, Attal’s political future depends not only on the goodwill of his mentor Macron, but on many other random factors — so-called “black swans”. Moreover, we are talking not only about objective indicators of the French economy, the situation with security and migration within the country, possible foreign policy failures, a hypothetical new “yellow vest” movement, etc., but also about many possible subjective issues that have dashed the presidential ambitions of otherwise obvious candidates such as François Fillon (accusations of corruption) or Dominique Strauss-Kahn (accusations of sexual harassment of a maid in an American hotel). Moreover, the victory of the candidate from Macron’s party in the next elections may be called into question by a successful consolidation within the centre-right or left camp, which will nominate their own candidates. In addition, as the French press writes, looking ahead, over time a conflict between an unpopular president and his popular prime minister cannot be ruled out... However, all these are only possible future scenarios. What is certain is that on January 9, 2024, Attal took the first serious step towards the Élysée Palace.

France After the Elections: Foreign Policy Horizons
Alexei Chikhachev
The preservation of the status quo in France has caused understandable relief in the European establishment, as well as among most of the media: the staunch Europeanist Macron looks to them like a clearly more advantageous figure than Marine Le Pen, who has proposed reformatting the EU into a union of nation states while weakening common institutions, writes Valdai Club expert Alexei Chikhachev.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.