French Interior Minister to quit in further blow to President Emmanuel Macron

France's Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told a news magazine that he would quit the ministry to run for his old job as mayor of Lyon in eastern France in 2020.
France's Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told a news magazine that he would quit the ministry to run for his old job as mayor of Lyon in eastern France in 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (AFP) - France's Interior Minister Gerard Collomb announced on Tuesday (Sept 18) that he would stand down after next year's European Parliament elections, in yet another blow to President Emmanuel Macron.

Mr Collomb, one of Mr Macron's most loyal ministers and a heavyweight in his Cabinet, told news magazine L'Express that he would quit the ministry to run for his old job as mayor of Lyon in eastern France in 2020.

The announcement comes just three weeks after Mr Macron's popular environment minister Nicolas Hulot quit and as the President's approval ratings have plummeted.

"The local elections are still far away - I will run in Lyon if I don't get diagnosed as seriously ill anytime before that," Mr Collomb joked.

"I won't be interior minister right up until the last moment. After a certain amount of time it would be better to be totally free for the campaign," he said.

"I think ministers who want to run in the 2020 local elections should be able to quit the government after the European fight," he said of the May 2019 European Parliament vote.

Mr Collomb, 71, previously served as Lyon mayor for 16 years until Mr Macron poached him for the Interior Ministry, and it has long been rumoured that he was eyeing a fourth term running the city.

 

'PART-TIME' MINISTER?

Right-wing opponents called on Mr Collomb to step down immediately.

"France deserves a full-time interior minister, not a man who's only thinking about himself and is just doing the job part time," said Mr Guillaume Peltier, a senior member of the Republicans party.

The news comes after Mr Macron struggled through a major scandal this summer over revelations that his former bodyguard Alexandre Benalla roughed up protesters while wearing a police helmet.

Mr Collomb became embroiled in the affair after it emerged he knew about the incident but decided it was not his job to inform prosecutors. Benalla has since been charged with assault.

Elected in May 2017 on a promise to reinvigorate the French economy, Mr Macron has pushed through pro-business policies such as tax cuts for the wealthy but which have yet to bear much fruit, with growth forecasts recently cut to 1.6 per cent of GDP this year.

The 40-year-old president, a former investment banker, also became embroiled at the weekend in the latest of a series of comments criticised as appearing out of touch with ordinary people.

Mr Macron told an aspiring young gardener he could find him a job just by "crossing the street", in a restaurant or hotel.

A Kantar Sofres Onepoint poll released on Monday (Sept 17) found only 19 per cent had a positive view of Mr Macron, with 60 per cent expressing a negative opinion.

Mr Collomb has previously said he viewed Mr Macron "almost as a son", but surprised political commentators this month by saying his government suffered from a "lack of humility".

A Socialist wooed into Mr Macron's centrist government, he has been faulted by former leftist allies for his record in office, not least an immigration Bill that was nonetheless seen by rightwingers as too lax.

Mr Hulot, a TV presenter and veteran environmental campaigner, quit on Aug 28 - live on the radio without informing Mr Macron beforehand - saying he felt "all alone" on green issues in the government.

A second popular member of the Cabinet, former Olympic fencing champion Laura Flessel, resigned as sports minister just a week later, citing personal reasons.