French President Emmanuel Macron brought several little-known figures into his government Wednesday as part of a reshuffle after corruption scandals started tarnishing his young Cabinet.
Macron had planned to rearrange the government after his centrist party won a majority in parliamentary elections Sunday. He was forced to make more changes than expected because four ministers facing investigations announced this week they would step down.
Macron's office announced Wednesday that Florence Parly, a former executive and budget official, would become the new defense minister after the previous defense chief, Sylvie Goulard, the highest ranking woman in the five-week-old government, stepped down.
Parly was a junior minister in charge of the budget in a Socialist government from 2000 to 2002. Since then, she has worked at airline company Air France and national railway company SNCF.
Macron also named Nicole Belloubet, a legal expert and member of France's Constitutional Court, as justice minister after her predecessor, Francois Bayrou, was forced to quit earlier in the day. Bayrou, who was leading Macron's crusade to purify politics, was forced to quit over corruption allegations.
Other leading government members remained the same, including the foreign, finance and interior ministers. The new Cabinet has 29 members, including 14 women, up from the 22 appointed after Macron's election last month. Center-right Prime Minister Edouard Philippe remains at the head of the government.
Macron pledged during his presidential campaign to renew the French political landscape by naming a mix of politicians from the left and the right, as well as members of civil society without government experience on their resumes.
Some newcomers will play the role of deputy ministers in big ministries, including Foreign Affairs, Interior and Environment, the presidential Elysee Palace said. Macron appointed as junior ministers two close friends who campaigned alongside him, Benjamin Griveaux and Julien Denormandie.
Bayrou announced his resignation following allegations of misuse of European Parliament funds by the centrist party he founded, the Modem. Bayrou's departure meant Modem has lost all three Cabinet posts it had in Macron's government, following the departures of Goulard and Marielle de Sarnez, the minister for European affairs.
Even more embarrassing for Macron is that his justice minister was in the process of promoting a law to clean up politics, a key policy promise of the recently elected president.
Bayrou claimed during a news conference that he "was the target of these denunciations in the goal of discrediting the minister who is creating this law". He said he chose "not to expose the government that I support to a campaign of lies". He insisted the party's management of human resources was "legal ... and moral."
European affairs minister De Sarnez pulled out of the government just days after winning a seat in Sunday's elections. She will now preside over Modem party lawmakers in the lower house, French media reported. She was replaced by Nathalie Loiseau, a diplomat who led France's elite administration school ENA, where Macron studied. Like the ex-defense minister, Bayrou and de Sarnez could become subjects of investigations over the use of parliamentary assistants who were improperly paid.
Richard Ferrand has also stood down as minister for territorial cohesion to lead the group of lawmakers elected under the banner of Macron's party at the National Assembly. Ferrand is facing an investigation for alleged conflict of interest related to his past business practices. He denies doing anything illegal, but acknowledges some old habits are no longer accepted by the public. Ferrand was replaced by leftist politician Jacques Mezard.
Macron, elected as president on May 7, has promised to clean up the French political scene, which has been peppered with corruption. Restoring the reputation of the French political class has become an increasingly important topic in France after Francois Fillon's presidential bid very publicly collapsed on reports that he paid his wife for work as a parliamentary aide that she allegedly did not perform. The new law that Bayrou was drafting would have banned the practice of hiring family members, among other measures.