French President Emmanuel Macron. Picture: REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen
French President Emmanuel Macron. Picture: REUTERS/Jacky Naegelen

French President Emmanuel Macron put off a government reshuffle on Wednesday, raising new questions about the depth of political experience in his party and his own ability to keep his administration on track after several resignations.

The president and his prime minister have been weighing the reshuffle for a week following the departure of three ministers since late August, including interior minister and early Macron backer Gerard Collomb. The resignations have challenged the president’s authority and stalled his reform ambitions.

Macron faces multiple challenges in carrying out a significant revamp. Not only must he try to maintain the left-right balance that he made a hallmark of his centrist movement, but also find strong candidates from among a relatively shallow and inexperienced pool of loyalists.

Government spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux, a member of Macron’s inner circle, said there was no reason to conclude the administration was in disarray after the ministerial departures. "Those who took the decision to leave did so for personal reasons," Griveaux said, underscoring that Macron and his prime minister saw eye-to-eye on the way forward.

Ministers had been expecting the rejig before a cabinet meeting on Wednesday morning. But in the event, the Elysee said it would not happen until after Macron returns from a visit to Armenia late on Friday.

Macron’s popularity has sunk in recent months, falling to below 30%, as frustration has welled up over a leader many voters see as arrogant and the architect of policies that favour the wealthy.

Opponents branded the reshuffle a "tragi-comedy" that exposed a shortage of political experience in the ruling party.

At the same time, Macron’s Republique En Marche party holds a commanding majority in the National Assembly (lower house), his presidential term runs until 2022, and the opposition is divided, meaning he faces no immediate threat. But Macron may face problems in the months ahead in the form of public opposition to his plans for changes to pension and unemployment benefits systems.

"Macron’s ability to attract is pretty weak," said hard-left legislator Alexis Corbiere.

"Many are asking themselves: ‘What should we do in this mess?’ They don’t want to be finished politically by becoming a minister in a government that risks descending into crisis in less than a year."

While Macron doesn’t face reelection until 2022, European Parliament elections in May next year and municipal polls in 2020 could turn into a semi-referendum on his mid-term performance, setting his reform agenda back further.