PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday named a senior but low-profile bureaucrat as prime minister to replace Edouard Philippe, the first move in a widely expected cabinet reshuffle after dismal local election showings for the ruling party.
The new premier, Jean Castex, was totally unknown to many in France until now and is officially a member of the right-wing opposition to Macron's centrists.
But Castex has been in charge of the country's progressive emergence from the coronavirus lockdown, a policy greeted as a relative success by experts. A wider cabinet overhaul is expected to be announced soon, possibly later in the day.
The president, who came to power in 2017 on the back of pledges to radically reform France, already has a wary eye on his 2022 re-election bid after months of protests and strikes that were followed by the coronavirus outbreak.
Macron has promised a "new course" for France to deal with the crisis, which has plunged France into its worst recession since World War II and left millions of people facing unemployment.
"I see this based on an economic, social, environmental and cultural reconstruction," he said in an interview with regional newspapers published late Thursday.
Speculation that Philippe was on the way out mounted this week after Macron's centrist party was routed in municipal elections Sunday, which saw the Greens take control of several major cities.
Philippe, a popular right-wing politician who never joined Macron's Republic on the Move party, nonetheless easily won his bid to be mayor of Le Havre.
His approval ratings have surged over his handling of the coronavirus crisis, while those of Macron, who has pursued ambitious economic reforms since coming to office in 2017, have fallen.
While many analysts thought Macron would tack left or look farther afield for his new prime minister, Castex is a pure product of the French administrative elite, having attending the same ENA managerial university as Macron and Philippe.