Élisabeth Borne: longtime technocrat and “woman on the left” | France

Elisabeth Borne, who was named France’s first female prime minister in more than 30 years, has a reputation as a technocrat with a long career in numerous ministries and local administrations. She is experienced in negotiating with unions, seen as crucial as Emmanuel Macron plots an overhaul of the pensions and benefits system that could lead to street protests.

The 61-year-old engineer, who previously ran RATP, was fiercely loyal to the centrist president during his first term, when she served as transport, environment and finally labor minister from 2020.

Borne, who describes herself as a “woman on the left”, has been a regular in the corridors of French power for several decades, adviser to ministers under François Mitterrand and adviser to socialist environment minister Ségolène Royal in 2014. She also has a worked on town planning at the town hall of Paris under the left-wing mayor Bertrand Delanoë.

During Macron’s first term, Borne often challenged the view that the pro-business president had veered from his “neither left nor right” stance to firmly embrace the center-right. Borne, who describes herself as driven by “social justice and equal opportunity”, would take up Macron’s argument that “helping everyone to free themselves through work is a value of the left”. She told Le Figaro last year: “Social democracy is still alive and it’s the president who leads it.”

Borne grew up in Paris. Her mother was from Normandy and the daily Liberation reports that her father was a Jew of Russian origin, from a family who had taken refuge in France in 1939. French resistance fighter, he was deported in 1942 and died in 1972, when she was a child.

When Borne was the first female prefect of the western region of Poitou-Charentes, as she signed her first decree of French naturalization for someone who had obtained French citizenship, she reportedly cited her own family roots which she said symbolized the integration of refugees in France.

Known for discreetly vaping, even in parliament, Borne was regularly on television at the height of the Covid pandemic to remind the French to work from home and defend the government’s job protection scheme. She has, however, said she is not interested in stepping into the limelight, and an Ifop poll last month revealed she is not well known. Forty-five percent of respondents said they didn’t know who she was.

Borne was admitted to hospital with Covid in March 2021 and given oxygen, an experience she described as nerve-wracking.

She is said to be precise on the technical details. She is a lover of math, saying she finds in numbers “something quite reassuring, quite rational”. Agence France-Presse reported that behind the scenes in the ministries where she served, she was nicknamed “Borne out” for the demands she made of her staff, a play on words with “burn out”.

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