Key centrist ally blasts Macron, sparking new political crisis

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PARIS – François Bayrou, a French centrist and a longstanding ally of President Emmanuel Macron, declared in a shock statement Wednesday that he has declined to join the new government, opening the door to a fresh political crisis in France.

In an interview with France Info on Thursday, Bayrou said a “difference of approach” on topics he deemed essential to the country’s future “prohibited” him from joining the cabinet of the new prime minister, Gabriel Attal.

Macron has yet to fill a dozen ministerial positions in an ongoing government reshuffle, and changes are expected to come in key cabinet posts, including education.

Bayrou sharply criticized the new government, arguing that there is a “constant, ongoing, progressive and increasingly serious rift between the people and power structures.”

The centrist leader, who formerly served as education minister and was thought to be a candidate to take the post once again, also expressed his disapproval of “the underlying notion that teachers don’t work hard enough.” Macron has pushed for teachers to be eligible for pay raises on the condition that they perform additional work.

The education minister post is considered to be of high importance in French politics. Attal was education minister before being appointed prime minister and vowed to keep education as one of his top priorities. At the end of last year, Macron said education was the “mother of all battles.”

Uncertain future for the pro-Macron coalition

The question now is what role Bayrou’s party, the Democratic Movement, will play in the pro-Macron coalition after what looks to be a political break up with the president.

The Democratic Movement, known as the MoDem, makes up one-fifth of the members of parliament in the pro-Macron coalition. That coalition has already struggled to govern since it lost its absolute majority in the lower house in 2022.

The 72-year-old Bayrou said his movement remains a “full-fledged” member of the governing coalition, but refused to pledge unconditional support for upcoming legislation.

This position has stoked controversy within his own party. Jean-Louis Bourlanges, a MoDem parliamentarian and the head of the foreign affairs committee in the French National Assembly, issued a statement in which he accused Bayrou of having acted without prior discussion, making the party “incoherent.”

Four members of the MoDem party held cabinet positions in the last government under the former prime minister, Elisabeth Borne. These included Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau and the delegate digital minister, Jean-Noël Barrot. Their future is now uncertain.

Bayrou had been rumored to join the new government after he was acquitted on Monday of charges of having misused European funds.