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France: Reopening strategist Castex named new prime minister

In this May 19, 2020 file photo, French government coordinator for the end of lockdown Jean Castex leaves after a videoconference with the French President and French mayors at the Elysee Palace in Paris. French President Emmanuel Macron has named Jean Castex, who coordinated France's virus reopening strategy, as new prime minister on Friday July 3, 2020. Emmanuel Macron is reshuffling the government to focus on reviving the economy after months of lockdown.
In this May 19, 2020 file photo, French government coordinator for the end of lockdown Jean Castex leaves after a videoconference with the French President and French mayors at the Elysee Palace in Paris. French President Emmanuel Macron has named Jean Castex, who coordinated France's virus reopening strategy, as new prime minister on Friday July 3, 2020. Emmanuel Macron is reshuffling the government to focus on reviving the economy after months of lockdown.(Gonzalo Fuentes/Pool via AP, File)
Published: Jul. 3, 2020 at 3:58 AM MDT|Updated: Jul. 3, 2020 at 6:34 AM MDT
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PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday named Jean Castex, who coordinated France’s virus reopening strategy, as the country’s new prime minister as the country focuses on reviving an economy hard-hit by the pandemic and months of strict lockdown.

The relatively low-profile Castex replaces Edouard Philippe, who resigned earlier in the day as Macron reshuffles the government to shift focus for the remaining two years of his term.

Macron, who says he wants a “new path” for the two remaining years of his term, has chosen a new face to address social and economic issues amid efforts for the country’s recovery.

Castex, 55, is a career public servant who has worked with multiple governments but never as a minister. France’s gradual reopening plan has been seen as generally successful so far.

A conservative, Castex began a local political career in 2008 in the small town of Prades in southern France, where he was re-elected as mayor in March with backing from The Republicans party.

He notably worked as deputy secretary-general at the presidency under former President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2011-2012.

Castex is also considered an expert in social affairs and health policies, two topics that will be on top of the agenda in the coming months.

Many government members are expected to be replaced in the forthcoming reshuffle.

Macron, a 42-year-old centrist, seeks balance between ministers coming from the right and from the left as well as centrist allies and people from the private sector.

The reshuffle comes days after a green wave swept over France in local elections. Macron saw his young centrist party defeated in France’s biggest cities and failing to plant local roots across the country.

The changes were planned even before Sunday’s voting, as Macron’s government faced obstacles and criticism before and during the virus crisis.

As the pandemic was peaking in the country in March and April, authorities came under fire for the lack of masks, tests and medical equipment.

Before that, Macron’s pro-business policies, widely seen as favoring the wealthier, had been hampered by the yellow vest economic movement against perceived social injustice. This winter, weeks of strikes and street demonstrations against a planned pension overhaul disrupted the country.

In addition, Macron’s efforts to boost job creation have been swept away by the economic and social consequences of the country’s lockdown.

The government issued a 460 billion-euro emergency package through a state-funded partial activity scheme, tax cuts and other financial aids for businesses, and Macron needs to adapt his policies as France’s economy is expected to shrink by 11% this year.

The unemployment rate that fell from 9.2% at the beginning of Macron’s term in 2017 to 7.6% earlier this year — its lowest level since 2008 — is now expected to increase steadily.

“Our first priority will be to rebuild an economy that is strong, ecological, sovereign and united,” Macron said in a televised address to the nation on June 14.

He ruled out any tax rise and instead said “working and producing more” is the response amid bankruptcies and layoffs caused by the crisis.

He put an emphasis on creating new jobs with climate-oriented policies including renovation of old buildings and greener transport and industries.

Philippe, 49, is expected to become the mayor of his hometown of Le Havre, in western France, after he won a large victory in Sunday's voting.

A conservative, former member of The Republicans’ party, he had joined Macron’s government in May 2017.

He had seen his popularity sharply increase in recent weeks, according to French poll institutes that show many French consider he did good job in gradually easing virus-related restrictions in the country and enforcing an emergency package to support the French economy.

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AP Writer Angela Charlton contributed to the story.

Copyright 2020 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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