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| 2 minutes read

French cabinet reshuffle will change key decision makers in energy and climate sector

The nomination of France’s youngest ever Prime Minister, Gabriel Attal, has prompted a major cabinet reshuffle. By decree of 11 January 2024, the Attal Government has re-drawn the boundary lines of key ministerial portfolios, with important political and practical consequences for the application and enforcement of laws and regulations relating to energy and the environment. 

Since 2007, the energy portfolio has been administered within a ‘super-powerful’ Ministry for the Environment (« Minister for the Ecological Transition »). In 2017, the Minister for the Environment was given a protocol ranking second only to the Prime Minister and the Treasury, effectively signalling that it was the most important government department, outside the Ministers of State. While this ranking has fluctuated with each successive government, the Ministry of the Environment has retained sole jurisdiction over climate and energy matters, and its preeminent status within cabinet, for the better part of two decades. Moreover, in 2022, the energy portfolio was considered sufficiently strategic to merit its own Minister (‘the Minister for the Energy Transition’), as opposed to a deputy minister or lesser secretary of state, although still administered under the auspices of the Ministry for the Environment. 

In last week’s announcement, however, the energy portfolio has been stripped of its titular minister and will now be administered as a department within the Treasury, marking a seismic return to pre-2007 arrangements. Decision making power under the Energy Code will henceforth be administered by the Minister for Finance, a move that has been interpreted to signal a shift towards pro-business and potentially pro-nuclear energy interests. The Minister for the Environment has, for its part, been relegated to the last position in the protocol ranking, a drastic shift in cabinet pecking order.

The French constitutional system, like its US and UK counterparts, does not require a set number of Ministers or dictate the scope of their respective portfolios. Ministers are appointed by the President upon recommendation of the Prime Minister (Constitution, art. 8) and the Prime Minister presides over a cabinet (conseil de ministres) of an unspecified size (Constitution, art. 9), with various constitutional duties. The only ministerial portfolio expressly in the Constitution, part from the Prime Minister, is the Minister for Justice (art. 65). Convention more or less fixes the contours of long established Ministerial portfolios (particularly, Justice and the Treasury), but the Government of the day has considerable freedom to re-organise cabinet and its attendant departments, as it sees fit. French laws and regulations will often defer decision making power to the “Minister in charge of X” – but the holder of that particular subject matter portfolio may change from time to time. Thus, the “Minister in charge of energy” (referred to in law as the responsible Minister for the application and enforcement of the Energy Code) is not necessarily predestined to be an office holder within or aligned with the Minister for the Environment.

While these reforms do not change the positive state of the law, they change who will administer the law, which is an important consideration for actors doing business in France. Practitioners are now awaiting further procedural decrees, which will define the portfolios and re-structure the departments of each Ministry.


public law, french law, constitutional law, energy, climate, environment, government, administrative law