Gabriel Attal, 34, is a new French prime minister, more inclined to a Diet Coke than a good Burgundy, comfortable with social networks and revelations about his personal life, a born communicator who utters phrases like “France rhymes with power.” ”To assert his “authority,” one of his favorite words.

Since taking office in early January, the youthful-looking Attal has taken to the countryside, far from his familiar haunts in the fashionable neighborhoods of Paris, dirtying his dress shoes, propping his notes on a choreographed bale of hay and calmed down the protesters. farmers through skillful negotiations driven by multiple concessions.

He has told rail workers threatening a strike that “working is a duty,” not an everyday French warning. She showed off his new dog on Instagram and explained that he named the high-energy Chow Chow “Volta” after the inventor of the electric battery. She has told the National Assembly that he is living proof of a changing France as “a prime minister who comes to terms with his homosexuality.”

France relents, but it is an open question whether it is ready for the narrative-controlling politics of emotion and distraction that Attal embodies. The time is short. The prime minister’s mission, as envisioned by embattled President Emmanuel Macron, is clear: reverse the dominance of Marine Le Pen’s far-right ahead of European Parliament elections in June and the French presidential election in just over three years. years.

Macron is term-limited and must leave office in 2027; the specter that haunts him is that of Ms Le Pen as his successor. He hopes to grow one of his own in Attal.

“Macron is astonished by Attal, in the same way that one is astonished by someone who has transgressed like himself and who, at the same time, is absolutely loyal,” said Marisol Touraine, a former minister of health and social affairs who has been the minister by Attal. political guru, she said in an interview. “The president believes in Attal’s political sixth sense.”

The “transgression” of both men was that of a restless youth against the old order. Neither Macron nor Attal ever saw a taboo that they did not want to break. Macron was a one-man revolution when he came to power in 2017, at the age of 39, proclaiming that left and right politics were extinct and offering a malleable post-ideological thing called “Macronism.”

Now, almost seven years later, Macron is turning to his protégé, or some say, clone, to reinject political enthusiasm. Pragmatism, not conviction, has defined Attal. He must now deliver in a testy France, without an absolute majority in Parliament and knowing that, as Clément Beaune, former Minister of Transport, said, “being prime minister here is very difficult because it is the president who decides.”

“The question that arises is to what extent Macron will let Attal go without becoming jealous,” said Philippe Labro, an author and political commentator. Sharing the spotlight does not come easily to Macron, as became evident when a former prime minister, Édouard Philippe, became popular and was dismissed.

A recent poll for Paris Match magazine showed Attal had a 47 percent approval rating, which is high by French standards. Macron fell to 32 percent, and Le Pen to 43 percent.

Attal’s challenge will be to use the hand Marcon has given him but without appearing to bite it as he steps out of the president’s shadow. The two men have already drifted apart over Mrs Le Pen’s national demonstration.

This month, Macron said he considers the party “outside the arc of the republic,” meaning broadly undemocratic, even as Attal declared that the “arc of the republic is the hemicycle” of the National Assembly, and that he would work with all parties there, including the far-right party, which has 89 seats.

“Attal wants to be president and he will do everything he can to achieve it,” said Touraine, whose daughter was friends with Attal at school. “Is he ambitious? Yes, in an extreme way. But he has no complexes. He assumes who he is and I find that positive.”

Attal, who did not respond to interview requests, has been on a whirlwind political journey to the prime minister’s office, known as Matignon. Born in 1989 into a wealthy Parisian family, Jewish on his father’s side and Orthodox Christian on his mother’s side, he was educated at an elite private school and at the prestigious Sciences Po university in Paris, before devoting himself to politics, essentially the only job he’s ever had. .

“École Alsacienne, Sciences Po, National Assembly, Ministry of Education, Matignon, Gabriel Attal’s career extends over 6 kilometers.” mocked François Ruffin, a left-wing lawmaker on X, formerly Twitter, added: “Disruption and audacity, but not far from its class.”

However, Attal’s youth was not without its challenges. As a teenager he was bullied at school for being gay. “It was a torrent of insults and abuse, which went on for many months with extreme violence,” he told TF1 television last year. “I suffered.”

The suffering was redoubled because he did not want to tell his family, for fear that “they would ask him why this was said” when he was not prepared to talk about being gay. Finally, a decade later, Attal, in his story, approached his father on his deathbed in 2015 and said: “Dad, I have fallen in love with a man.” His father responded positively, he was eager to meet the man, but he died the next day.

France, where the privacy of love and sex has been almost sacred, is not accustomed to such dramatic confessions, but Attal is a disruptor, even when exercising extreme discipline. A “control freak,” in Ms. Touraine’s words, has realized that in the age of short attention spans, the way to dictate the agenda is through varied and relentless communication.

He has also understood that this is an era in which nationalist politics thrives on fear of immigration. In his brief stint as education minister, he banned the abaya, or long, loose robe, worn by some Muslim female students. Leaders of France’s large Muslim community and those on the left were outraged; They are not fans of Mr. Attal. In cabinet meetings, Attal was known for insisting that the government embrace the need to do the right thing on immigration.

Attal’s powerful maiden speech to Parliament last month was a paean to “a nation like no other”. He, he said, “would refuse to have our identity diluted or dissolved.”

“There is no negotiation with the Republic,” he insisted. “You accept and respect it, in its entirety, without a single exception!”

As an appeal to Le Pen voters, it was anything but subtle.

The journey to the right has been long. Attal’s roots, like Macron’s, were socialist. Attal started in the moderate social democratic wing of the party and completed two internships with Touraine, then a socialist representative, before joining his team at the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs in 2012.

He was 23 years old. Few people guessed the determination that was hidden behind her even-tempered character.

“At first you don’t see his ambition,” said Luc Broussy, who, as an expert on demographic aging, worked frequently with Attal. “I never saw him angry. He has never betrayed his convictions because I have never seen him affirm any.”

As the Macron train gained momentum in 2016, Attal faltered. He had provisionally accepted a job secured by Mrs. Touraine at the French diplomatic mission to the United Nations in New York.

At the same time, however, he fell in love and became a couple with Stéphane Séjourné, now Minister of Foreign Affairs, who was and remains close to Macron; and in early 2017, a Macron victory in the presidential election suddenly seemed almost inevitable.

“He joined Macron at the last minute and started this incredible adventure,” Broussy said. Touraine remembers telling Attal in March 2017: “It’s now or never.”

Mr. Attal was startled. Three months later, he was a representative in the National Assembly when Macron’s centrist party, La République en Marche (now Renaissance), swept June’s parliamentary elections.

“Without Séjourné, I’m not sure Attal would have become a Macronist legislator in 2017,” Touraine said. (He and Mr. Séjourné have since separated.)

Records soon began to fall as Macron adopted Attal as a favorite. In 2018, at age 29, he became the youngest minister of a French Fifth Republic government as Secretary of State for Education; then the youngest education minister in 2023 and the youngest prime minister in 2024.

The task now ahead is daunting. He wants to “unlock” the economy: “A bureaucracy that retreats is freedom that advances!” – in a country strongly attached to its social safety net.

He wants to promote green energy in the face of a wave of protests over its high cost. He is a representative of the elite class that people in peripheral areas consider disconnected from the difficulties of real life, a theme that Le Pen likes to harp on.

No less important is that Attal must fuel his own fierce presidential ambitions while also showing loyalty to Macron, even as the fight to succeed the president has already begun.

Before he died in 2015, Attal’s father, a Jew of Tunisian descent, told him: “You are not Jewish, but everyone will think you are. So it’s like you are.”

Attal, who was raised in the Orthodox Church but is not religious, has spoken about this scene, as well as the homophobic and anti-Semitic discourse he has sometimes faced on social media. These attacks, if anything, seem to have hardened him.

“One thing I know for sure about him is that if something inhabits him and torments him, and I think he is tormented, it is ambition that allows him to overcome all of that,” Touraine said.

By Sam