French right torn apart as Macron, new PM prepare to name government

France's newly appointed Prime Minister Edouard Philippe (centre) shakes hands with officials during his first official visit at the Police Prefecture of Paris on May 15, 2017.
France's newly appointed Prime Minister Edouard Philippe (centre) shakes hands with officials during his first official visit at the Police Prefecture of Paris on May 15, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (REUTERS) - The head of France's main conservative party disowned his colleague Edouard Philippe on Tuesday (May 16) for taking up the job of prime minister under centrist President Emmanuel Macron.

Speaking as the new president prepared to name the rest of his government later in the day, Mr Francois Baroin, leader of The Republicans (LR) party, which is being torn apart by Mr Macron's divide and conquer tactics, said on BFM TV Mr Philippe had "made a choice which is not ours".

Mr Macron appointed Mr Philippe, a lawmaker from the moderate wing of The Republicans party, on Monday (May 15) to head his first government in a move aimed at broadening his political appeal and weakening opponents before parliamentary elections in June.

Several Socialist members of Parliament have also joined Mr Macron's cause and 21 LR members of Parliament, including some party heavyweights and former ministers, issued a joint statement on Monday urging the party to positively respond to the "hand extended by the president".

"It will be up to him to struggle with this element of schizophrenia," Mr Baroin added.

Mr Macron is looking to the June elections to give him and his own start-up Republic on the Move (REM) party the majority in Parliament needed to push through his plans to cut state spending, boost investment and create jobs, after years of economic malaise.

The nomination is a direct challenge to The Republicans, who say they aim to be the biggest party in the Lower House of Parliament but are lagging behind REM in the first opinion polls ahead of that ballot.

Mr Baroin reacted sharply to a suggestion that Mr Macron, a 39-year-old ex-banker who served briefly as economy minister in a Socialist government, was reshaping politics.

"What Emmanuel Macron is proposing is dynamiting not political reshaping," he said, adding that the LR did not want to confront him but were prepared for political discussion with him.