French President Emmanuel Macron beat far-right leader Marine Le Pen in April's presidential run-off
French President Emmanuel Macron beat far-right leader Marine Le Pen in April's presidential run-off

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday reshuffled his government looking to reset a second term off to a rocky start after his failure to win a parliamentary majority.

While he finally ceded to public pressure by sacking Damien Abad, the solidarity and social cohesion minister accused of rape, there was little sign of a major renewal that could turn Macron's fortunes around.

Other posts in the 41-strong cabinet -- exactly divided between men and women -- mostly went to politicians from the different factions in Macron's camp. The foreign, finance and defence ministers all remained in place.

Abad later told reporters he had been targeted by a "sinister movement" of "despicable slanders organised around a calendar" designed to drive him out of government after just 45 days.

Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, who has been accused by former patients of rape during gynaecological examinations, is staying on as state secretary for development, Francophony and international partnerships.

Monday's reshuffle brought in some new faces, including Abad's replacement, French Red Cross chief Jean-Christophe Combe, and emergency doctor Francois Braun as health minister.

OECD chief economist Laurence Boone was named Europe minister, replacing Macron loyalist Clement Beaune who became notorious for verbal jousting with Brexit supporters. Beaune was moved to the transport ministry.

Christophe Bechu, mayor of the Loire city of Angers and a close ally of former prime minister Edouard Philippe, was named environment minister.

Although Macron has long trailed environmental protection as a priority, Bechu has "no experience of what's at stake in the green transition and has almost never taken a stance on national or international questions of climate or the environment," Greenpeace France said.

The reshuffle was "a message to the troops: loyalty will be rewarded. Looking ahead to the coming months, when passing new laws is likely to come down to just a few votes," tweeted Frederic Says, a political commentator for broadcaster France Culture.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen charged that "those who failed are all reappointed" to the government. Communist boss Fabien Roussel told broadcaster LCI it "feels like they're just starting over again with the same people".

A first test for the new government will come on July 6, when Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne will lay out her policies before parliament.

The government is still mum on whether it will hold a traditional high-stakes confidence vote afterwards.

Macron beat Le Pen a second time in April's presidential run-off to win a new five-year term.

But a lacklustre campaign for last month's parliamentary vote saw his supporters win just 250 seats, 39 short of the absolute majority needed to push through new laws.

Macron was largely absent from the domestic political stage between the presidential election and the vote for the National Assembly -- absorbing himself instead on the international scene with Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

But where the image of the head of state fighting France's corner abroad might once have assured presidents backing in the parliamentary poll, this time around it reinforced Macron's image as distant and arrogant.

His far-right and hard-left opponents enjoyed free rein to attack what few concrete policies the majority offered, such as an unpopular plan to push back the legal retirement age to 65.

And after a first term buffeted by crises including "yellow-vest" protests against the government and the Covid-19 pandemic, Macron could point to few successes in the reform programme on which he was elected in 2017.

The once all-powerful president will now need to find allies in a parliament with large blocs from the far right and left-wing alliance NUPES -- both broadly hostile to his leadership.

Opposition forces have ruled out any formal coalition, leaving the government to glean support where it can as bills come up for the vote.

"Whereas yesterday he opposed 'imperfect compromises', from now on the president will have to resign himself to them," newspaper Le Monde commented this weekend, bemoaning "presidential hesitations" and "ideological vagueness" at the Elysee.

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