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Macron and newly appointed PM Borne name reshuffled cabinet

France's newly appointed Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne on 16 May. © Reuters/Ludovic Marin

French President Emmanuel Macron named new foreign and defence ministers on Friday as part of a government re-shuffle intended to create fresh momentum ahead of parliamentary elections next month.

France's ambassador to London, Catherine Colonna, was picked as foreign minister, making her only the second woman to hold the prestigious job.

Sebastien Lecornu, former minister for overseas territories, was promoted to the defence ministry, Macron's chief of staff Alexis Kohler announced at the presidential palace.

The changes, which come amid Russia's assault against Ukraine, are likely to raise eyebrows in France, though Macron has taken the lead role in managing France's response to the invasion.

The newly re-elected head of state is eyeing a parliamentary majority in polls next month in order to push through his domestic reform agenda, which includes welfare and pension changes as well as tax cuts.

The biggest surprise came in the education ministry where renowned academic Pap Ndiaye, an expert on colonialism and race relations, will take over from right-winger Jean-Michel Blanquer.

Macron on Monday named former labour minister Elizabeth Borne as prime minister, the first time a woman has held France's top cabinet job in more than 30 years and only the second time in history.

Ongoing delays

Opposition figures had accused Macron of deliberately delaying naming a new government, almost four weeks since his re-election on 24 April, when he defeated far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

The issue has been the subject of feverish media coverage in recent days, overshadowing the parliamentary campaign and drowning out opposition parties.

"French people have a lot of worries about the future, about the cost of electricity, the cost of fuel, of housing and of food which is going up," right-wing MP Julien Aubert from the Republicans party told Franceinfo radio on Friday.

Macron's centrist LREM party, allied with the centrist MoDem and centre-right Horizons among others, is expected to face its biggest challenge from a rejuvenated left-wing next month.

Head of the France Unbowed party, Jean-Luc Melenchon, is eyeing a comeback in the parliamentary elections on 12 and 19 June after finishing third in the presidential polls.

Melenchon recently persuaded the Socialist, Communist and Greens parties to enter an alliance under his leadership that unites the left around a common platform for the first time in decades.

New recruits

As with previous Macron governments, the cabinet is evenly split between men and women.

The president has also continued his habit of attracting talent from opposition parties, with senior Republicans party MP Damien Abad named as minister for solidarity, autonomy and handicapped people.

Abad, 42, is the son of a miner from Nimes in southern France and became the first handicapped MP to be elected in 2012. He has arthrogryposis, a rare condition that affects the joints.

Elsewhere in the government, Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire and hard-line Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin both remain in their positions.

Colonna replaces veteran Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, while Lecornu takes over defence from Florence Parly.

France has promised to step up its weapons supplies to Ukraine which include Milan anti-tank missiles as well as Caesar howitzers.

(with AFP)