Coronavirus, pension reform, and more – Jean Castex shed some light on his government team

France’s new prime minister, Jean Castex, shed some new light on his government team, coronavirus, pensions and unemployment insurance reform in just his second interview since his appointment on 3 July.

Two of Castex’s ministerial appointments were widely discussed during the Wednesday (8 July) interview: Gérald Darmanin as interior minister and Éric Dupond-Moretti as justice minister. The PM said his choice of the latter was a joint decision with President Emmanuel Macron.

Dupond-Moretti’s appointment came as a great surprise and it now seems clear that it was Macron who had the idea and Castex who backed it and made the proposal.

The new PM deciphered some of the factors that led to the choice of Dupond-Moretti: “We didn’t appoint a colourful, strong, robust Keeper of the Seals to go after the magistrates. But to defend justice.”

Castex has also promised an increase in the country’s justice budget, adding that “the objective of this government is that the public service of justice works better.”

He also mentioned new Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who is facing an allegation of rape, which he fully denies. “I fully accept this appointment,” Castex said, insisting that “he has the right, like everyone else, to the presumption of innocence.”

Jean Castex became the new Prime Minister of France on Friday (3 July), following the announcement of a government reshuffle on Tuesday evening and the resignation of Edouard Philippe this morning.

A re-confinement plan is ready

Castex also delved into the area of expertise he is most associated with: the COVID-19 pandemic and containment. That is because before being appointed prime minister, he was the government’s “deconfinement gentleman”.

The new PM said that “it has always been said, foreseen and envisaged that it was necessary to prepare for a second wave of the pandemic”, when asked if travel restrictions could be reimplemented and confirmed that a re-confinement plan is ready.

However, Castex also added that containment has “terrible consequences”, noting that he does not favour a widespread re-confinement.

“I am determined to prepare France for a second wave, but in a way that preserves life as best I can. Economic life, social life.”

The head of government will visit French Guiana, a region hard hit by the coronavirus, this Sunday (12 July).

Reopening the pension dialogue

One of the major issues of the coming weeks and months will be pension reform. An explosive subject that has been put on hold by the crisis. In this context, “my responsibility is to reopen the dialogue,” he said.

Castex will bring together social partners “before 20 July”, to discuss the issue as he wants to “reopen negotiations” on the universal part of the reform, to look into financing.

As for the unemployment insurance reform, the PM wishes to “postpone its implementation”. And if he “approved” the reform “made at a time when France had […] achieved the biggest drop” in unemployment, the coronavirus crisis has turned a lot of cards upside down. If not all of them. “The common thread is people’s daily lives, so we adapt our tools to the realities in their interest,” he concluded.

The French government continues to defend its pension reform proposal initially recommended by the European executive. Although it has since been watered down, its divisiveness has led to the paralysis of the transport system for almost a month.

More resources for healthcare: “I’m a man of dialogue.”

Still on social issues, Castex also discussed the so-called “Ségur de la Santé”, a major consultation aimed at giving more resources to the public hospital.

On Tuesday evening (7 July), the government announced an additional budget of €1.1 billion to increase the salaries of paramedical hospital staff.

And the PM “hopes” that the negotiations will be concluded within a week as he reiterated his commitment to consultation. “I am a man of dialogue”, he stressed once again.

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