Élisabeth Borne: the reasonable choice

Élisabeth Borne is France’s new prime minister.

When President Emmanuel Macron ran for his second term, he promised “renewal”. It was not to be a simple continuation of his first term. At the same time, he announced that he would continue his reforms, which were interrupted by the yellow vest protests and the pandemic. To mark this change, Macron sent a strong signal. He chose Élisabeth Borne, a woman, as prime minister. This is the second time since Edith Cresson 31 years ago that a woman has held the office, after two prime ministers who came from the conservative camp, now a politician from the left wing of Macron’s LREM movement.

Immediately after the presidential elections, the 61-year-old’s name circulated. But then rivals emerged from the right and from the left. Borne, however, is the ideal person for Macron, loyal and experienced in government. She is seen as a strong woman who can push through reforms. Borne comes from the Socialists, she worked under former Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and Culture Minister Jack Lang, who is still popular today. France’s media said Macron had found his “Swiss Army knife” for prime minister, saying it was “the reasonable choice”. With her, Macron is not taking any risks. The fact that a woman was given the post was welcomed everywhere.

Minister of transport, environment and labor

From the political opposition from the right and left there was immediate criticism of the selection. Macron continues his “social plunder”, “an entrepreneur in the service of the president’s project”, or “the social and environmental abuse continues”, they said. Conclusion of the critics: It’s business as usual. No sign of renewal, but continuity with a prime minister who held several ministerial posts under Macron. Borne’s confidants explained that she was by no means lacking in courage and that she was hands-on.

Born in Paris, Borne has stubbornly worked her way up. She lost her father at an early age and grew up in difficult circumstances under state care, yet attended elite engineering schools. Before joining Macron, she was president of the Paris transport authority RATP. She thus recommended herself in 2017 as minister of transport, later of the environment, and then labor. When she took office, she declared that she stood for “social justice” and “equal opportunities” and demanded to be called “Madame la Première ministre” (Madame Prime Minister).

Her main task is to give the president another majority in the parliamentary elections in June. In the coming days, the government team is to be changed for this purpose – and tactics are called for. Borne is expected to take the wind out of the sails of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who has united the left around him and would like to become prime minister himself. As a woman, Borne embodies renewal and also stands for a social economic policy. She should succeed in convincing left-wing, environmentally conscious voters to vote for Macron and at the same time not scare off right-wing voters.

Technocrat from the left

In recent years, Macron has always been criticized for being the “president of the rich”, for being too aloof and not social enough. There is a need to catch up here. Borne also has the trust of the unions, which regard her as a pragmatic technocrat, merciless but fair – a doer. The conservative daily Le Figaro calls her a “techno from the left”. At the same time, the president beats Mélenchon in the field of the environment because Borne used to be environment minister and knows the challenges in the field of climate change.

While Macron, as is traditional in France, concentrates on foreign issues and Europe, Borne is to become the strong woman for domestic policy. Previously, the president had hijacked almost everything. Prime Minister Jean Castex looked pale. Borne, on the other hand, is to move more into the spotlight – without, of course, overshadowing Macron. Her main task will be to convince the French that purchasing power is an important concern for the government. According to surveys, the issue is the biggest concern for the French, especially in times of inflation.

In France, it is considered likely that a large part of the government team will be replaced, as a sign that a new era has begun. If Macron wins a majority in the June 12-19 parliamentary elections, the way would also be further open for Borne. Several challenges await her. First of all, pension reform and raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 or 65, a project Macron had to postpone because of the pandemic.

Environmental issues decisive

When it comes to reforms, Borne has demonstrated her capacity for dialogue and tenacity. As transport minister, she pushed through the rail reform, and abolished privileges for railroad workers, especially retirement regulations. As labor minister, she was responsible for the labor market reforms that Macron successfully pushed through in his first term. Faced with the power of the street, which made many of her predecessors buckle, she showed herself undaunted. However, the controversial labor market reform tarnished her image as being rather left of center.

Another major point of criticism of her from the French point of view is her environmental policy. Under her as environment minister, the demands of the Citizens’ Climate Fund were established. In the end, however, many of the demands were dropped, and implementation was seen as half-hearted. The daily newspapers “Le Monde” and “Libération” judged that she had not succeeded in placing “the protection of the environment at the center of the government’s decisions”.

However, it lacked scope for implementation. When he was re-elected, Macron announced that environmental policy would become a major concern for which the prime minister would be responsible. Borne must prove that she can be convincing on environmental issues, also to beat Mélenchon out of the field with his environmental program. Tanja Kuchenbecker


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