PARIS — Emmanuel Macron won’t be rushed. The 24-hour news cycle? The French leader isn’t interested. At least, that’s what he wants people to think.
France’s president is turning a government reshuffle into a soapbox against the time-pressures of modern politics and wall-to-wall news coverage.
Behind the scenes, Macron’s government is struggling to quickly plug the gap left by the sudden resignation last week of his interior minister, Gerard Collomb.
But Macron and his aides are spinning the delay in appointing a replacement. The message from his office: Relax everyone.
“He makes no apologies for taking time in order to do this famous reshuffle,” government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said, just before Macron set off Wednesday afternoon for an overseas trip to Armenia that will further postpone the appointment of a new minister at least until the president’s return on Friday.
Collomb’s resignation, to free him up to re-run as mayor of the southeastern city of Lyon, initially appeared to blind-side Macron, who tried but failed to get the minister to reconsider. His departure was so sudden that when U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and European interior ministers gathered for a long-planned meeting to discuss anti-terrorism and other issues this week, Macron’s prime minister had to be dispatched to greet them, standing in temporarily in the absence of a French interior minister.
Opposition leaders quickly argued that not swiftly replacing Collomb was symptomatic of a government in disarray. Guillaume Peltier of the right-wing Republicans asked if France “still has a captain.” A “mess,” sniffed far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon.
Sometimes proudly sporting a made-in-France watch, on a red-white-and-blue wrist-strap, Macron likes to describe himself as the “master of the clocks.” But he is almost always late —even at meetings with other heads of states. As the days without a reshuffle have stretched beyond a week, Macron has sought to use the mini-saga to signal that his schedule is his own and that he won’t be pushed around.
Usually, reshuffles take a few days, at most. One reason this one is taking longer may be that Macron has equilibriums to maintain. Recruiting more men than women to his administration would violate his promise of equality between the sexes. Recruiting too heavily from the left or right wings of French politics would risk tilting his government too far from its centrist, middle-way axis. And background checks have to be conducted to ensure that candidates don’t have legal or other skeletons in their closet that could soil Macron in the same way that ugly scandals undermined previous French administrations.
In short, Macron is far too busy to be rushed.
“He takes responsibility for breaking with usual practices when some were changing the minister of so-and-so within a few hours, moving him from one ministry to another,” Griveaux said. “He said, with his own words, that ministers were not objects on shelves but people with whom it was necessary to have an extensive dialogue before deciding to give them the important mission we have started of transforming the country.”
So hold the presses.
As 24-hour news channels have breathlessly speculated about who might be shuffled to which ministry and talked of a possible split between Macron and his prime minister over candidates, the French leader took a sunset stroll on Tuesday evening along the banks of the Seine River, where lovers have long hoped that time will stand still.
A journalist who seemingly happened to luck across the unusual scene snapped Macron walking ahead of his bodyguards, a mobile phone glued to his ear . “Crisis? What crisis?” the image seemed to say.
Macron has even coined a phrase — the “tyranny of immediacy” — to describe his manifest refusal to become enslaved by the tick-tock, tick-tock of the right-here, right-now. Defending the right to take one’s time all seems very French, fitting with France’s fondness for leisure, for two-hour lunches and slow food.
It’s a far cry from the famously frenetic style of one of Macron’s recent predecessors, Nicolas Sarkozy. He was so in a hurry as president that he dared to remove cheese from presidential palace menus so meals would go quicker. That anecdote came courtesy of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who lamented the axing of fromage at the Elysee Palace.
Sooner, or later, there’ll be a new minister, probably more than one if the reshuffle concerns several portfolios.
But all in good time.