France's Macron drawing up his Cabinet with help of PM Philippe

French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron (right) shaking hands with mayor of Le Havres Edouard Philippe during the MSC Meraviglia cruise ship coins ceremony at the STX shipyards in Saint-Nazaire, western France, on Feb 1, 2016.
French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron (right) shaking hands with mayor of Le Havres Edouard Philippe during the MSC Meraviglia cruise ship coins ceremony at the STX shipyards in Saint-Nazaire, western France, on Feb 1, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (BLOOMBERG) - President Emmanuel Macron spent Tuesday (May 16) selecting his Cabinet with new Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

Just back from meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Mr Macron huddled with Mr Philippe throughout the day and the list of ministers was due to be released at 3pm on Wednesday (May 17).

As the first president to be elected without the support of either of the country's major political parties, and after promising to overcome the ideological divisions that have long hampered French policymaking, Mr Macron has a delicate balancing act to pull off as he seeks a mix of men and women, political backgrounds, and technical experience.

"He always said his government will have gender parity with people from various political backgrounds and from civil society," Mr Richard Ferrand, Mr Macron's campaign chief, said on France Inter on Tuesday. "Getting over divisions means everyone can have their own political background, but still work for the common good."

Mr Philippe, who was appointed on Monday (May 15), is the mayor of the port city of Le Havre and also a member of Parliament from the centre-right Republicans party. Mr Macron was a minister in the government of Socialist President Francois Hollande.

The announcement of the new government had been expected on Tuesday evening, but a statement from Mr Macron's office said the announcement will come on Wednesday and blamed the delay on the need to verify the tax status and potential conflicts of interest of the candidates. The first Cabinet meeting has been pushed back to Thursday (May 18) from Wednesday.

French press reports suggest the only member of Mr Hollande's Cabinet likely to keep his job is Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who backed Mr Macron over the Socialists Party's presidential candidate Benoit Hamon.

Other names that have been mentioned as possible members of the Cabinet are centrist politician Francois Bayrou, who pulled out of the presidential race to rally his support behind Mr Macron, Lyon Mayor Gerard Collomb, European lawmaker Sylvie Goulard, former trade minister Anne-Marie Idrac, and Mr Ferrand.

French newspapers have reported that Mr Bayrou and Mr Philippe both insisted on naming a certain number of ministers. Mr Ferrand refused to be pinned down on exactly when the Cabinet would be named.

"We can't tie our programme to the schedule of when newspapers go to press," he said.

On Monday evening in Berlin, the president said he doesn't want to pull existing euro area government debt and pledged to implement economic reform in France as he sought to revive the French-German partnership during his first overseas trip on his first full day in office. He'll meet Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni on Wednesday evening in Paris.

How long that Cabinet lasts, and whether it's able to enact the economic modernisation Mr Macron promised in his campaign, will depend on parliamentary elections to be held on June 11 and June 18.

Mr Macron needs to be able to pull together a majority in Parliament - either with his own party, the Republic on the Move, or with partners. If he falls short, the new Parliament could vote down Mr Macron's Cabinet and choose its own government, sidelining the president.

Mr Macron's political movement has named 511 candidates for the 577-seat Parliament and plans to name the rest this week.

Having already split the Socialist Party with his run for the presidency, Mr Macron's recruitment of one of the rising stars from the Republicans now threatens to splinter that party as well. A group of 28 lawmakers from centrist parties and Mr Philippe's Republicans on Monday evening signed a letter calling on their parties "to respond to the open hand" of Mr Macron.

"I say to my political family: take a good look at what's happening, wait to see what the new government looks like, and stop systematically opposing everything," Mr Thierry Solere, a signatory who was briefly spokesman for failed Republican presidential candidate Francois Fillon, said on Europe1 on Tuesday. "I prefer my country to my party."

But Mr Francois Baroin, who is running the Republicans parliamentary campaign, said his party won't cut any deals with Mr Macron.

"He doesn't want parties to realign, he wants to dynamite them," Mr Baroin said on BFM TV. "We have serious differences: He wants to raise taxes, we want to cut income tax."