French PM: surprised campaign leader in Macron's 'sudden' poll gambit

Attal was said to be 'quite angry' (Jordan Pettitt)
Attal was said to be 'quite angry' (Jordan Pettitt)

France's premier may have been taken aback by Emmanuel Macron's calling of snap elections, but he will now lead the campaign even if the surprise move could cost him his job.

Installed earlier this year, 35-year-old Gabriel Attal is France's youngest and first openly gay prime minister. But he would be one of the shortest-serving premiers if Macron's gambit backfires.

Despite his lack of experience, Attal has since his appointment shown himself to be an effective debater and has even been seen in some quarters as a potential successor to Macron.

Even if his personal ratings have slipped in recent months, Attal remains the most popular key member of the government.

But after the crushing defeat of Macron's party at the hands of the far right in the European elections, he now has to wage a domestic legislative poll campaign he reportedly initially had no wish to fight.

Kept out of discussions about the possibility of calling snap elections in the wake of the European polls, Attal reportedly warned Macron of the "perilous" risks when he was finally informed.

Attal, usually ubiquitous across French media, had on Monday been conspicuously absent from the airwaves after the election was called.

When Macron made his televised address Sunday calling the elections in a shock move, Attal made no comment, merely reposting Macron's address on X. A lectern set up at the Matignon prime minister's residence for a briefing was never put to use.

Breaking his silence in an interview with TF1 television Tuesday evening, Attal acknowledged that the decision had been "heavy" but said the country was suffering from political "suffocation".

"I will lead the campaign as prime minister," he said.

- 'Quite angry' -

Only on the job for half a year, Attal "has taken a big blow to the head" and "is quite angry", said one ruling party MP, asking not to be named.

In a meeting at the Elysee Palace on Sunday evening with leaders of the ruling party, Attal "said that he was ready to resign his government but supported the president's decision", said one participant.

According to broadcaster BFMTV, he tried in vain to dissuade Macron from dissolving parliament by offering his resignation.

"I do what I am told", he confided on Monday to one of his interlocutors, who found him "fatalistic" but at the same time "lucid".

Attal had played a key role in the European election campaign, and was widely seen as getting the upper hand in a debate with 28-year-old far-right party chief Jordan Bardella.

But he also faced accusations of trying to upstage the head of the ruling party list, Valerie Hayer, when he barged in on a discussion where Hayer was speaking.

- 'Attalist campaign' -

On Tuesday morning, he told ruling party MPs in a closed-door meeting that he would do "everything" in his power to "avoid the worst", adding that the far right was "at the gates of power" in France.

"I will fulfil my duty as prime minister to act in the service of the French people until the last minute," he told the ruling Renaissance party MPs.

But in a sign of his disquiet with the move, he acknowledged that the election decision was "sudden" and "brutal" for MPs who would now have to campaign only two years after the last election was held in 2022.

Several Renaissance MPs at the meeting called on Attal to fully engage in the campaign with Macron more in the background, participants told AFP.

"They want it to be an Attalist campaign, not a Macronist one," one said.