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Edouard Philippe: France’s little-known new PM

His age reinforced the generational shift in France’s corridors of power

Gulf News

Edouard Philippe

Reuters

PARIS: France’s new prime minister Edouard Philippe is a low-profile 46-year-old from the right wing Republicans party.

The mayor of his hometown since 2010, the gritty northern port of Le Havre, Philippe was first elected to parliament in 2012 as a Republicans MP for his Seine-Maritime area.

The son of two teachers is a longtime ally of ex-prime minister Alain Juppe, the veteran centrist whom he backed as a candidate for the Republicans’ nomination for this year’s election.

“He has the advantage of being completely unknown to the average French person,” political analyst Chloe Morin of the Jean-Jaures Foundation, a left-leaning think tank, said.

Philippe’s political positioning is crucial to understanding why France’s youngest president has plucked him from relative obscurity.

Speaking last Thursday, Philippe encouraged Macron to “transgress” by naming someone from outside his party which he hinted would encourage some of his colleagues to join the REM.

Philippe is sporty, multi-lingual and known to be an intellectual, but is also seen by some critics as aloof or even arrogant.

“Intelligent, lively and at times a bit crazy,” one insider who worked with him in the Republicans party told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding that he had a tendency to be “brusque” with colleagues.

“He’s not easy to get to know,” a local politician in his native Normandy region also said on condition of anonymity, adding that Philippe “doesn’t have massive warmth” despite having many qualities.

A book last year on Juppe by journalist Gael Tchakaloff was brutal, describing Philippe as having “arrogance, an excess of self-confidence and ambitions beyond all proportion”.

The new prime minister is also a keen amateur boxer, has written two crime thrillers, and has a strong interest in wartime British prime minister Winston Churchill.

And his impersonations of senior politicians such as ex-presidents Valery Giscard d’Estaing, Jacques Chirac or Nicolas Sarkozy are admired by colleagues and friends alike.

He is married, has three children and speaks German, which could come in handy as Macron seeks to persuade Berlin to join his ambitious efforts to “reform and relaunch” the European Union.

In Le Havre, an important port for container ships on the Channel coast, he has organised an international conference called Positive Economy Forum since 2012.

Inviting activists, economists and business executives, it tackles many of the themes that were central to Macron’s election such as how to modernise France to increase economic growth while respecting workers and the environment.

According to French press reports, Philippe is an aficionado of Bruce Springsteen, his favourite actor is Sean Connery, and he’s a fan of the ‘Godfather’ movies.

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