French President Emmanuel Macron held a special security meeting, spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin and convened his Cabinet for the first time on Thursday — all under a growing cloud of concern that his office is trying to control the press. The government, appointed Wednesday, is a carefully calibrated balance of 22 prominent and unknown figures from the left and the right, half of them women. They arrived for their first meeting Thursday with smiles, posing for photographs on the front porch of the presidential Elysee Palace.
After the meeting, Macron talked by phone with Putin about possible cooperation on international issues, including the fight against terrorism. The Kremlin said in a statement that the two voiced readiness to develop "traditionally friendly" economic, political and cultural ties.
Macron held a defense council including the defense minister and the military chiefs to focus on security issues. The country remains under a state of emergency, and under threat from Islamic extremists, since deadly November 2015 attacks.
During the Cabinet meeting, Macron called on his ministers to have the "necessary discipline" and "solidarity" despite their sometimes stark political differences, government spokesman Christophe Castaner said. In keeping with Macron's independent centrist line and goal of reshaping French politics, his ministers include both Socialists and conservatives. Castaner, a Socialist who joined Macron's movement last year, said "our political background will not prevent us to work smartly for France."
Meanwhile, tensions have arisen over Macron's policies on media access, recalling similar conflicts over coverage of Donald Trump's presidency in the US.
Some French political reporters said that Macron's office called their media organization to designate specific journalists who will be able to cover Macron's first trip outside Europe, scheduled in Mali on Friday. In the past, French media would decide themselves who to send on presidential trips. The president's staff told some media organizations they were trying to give access to journalists with backgrounds covering the topic or theme of a visit, rather than only to political correspondents.
Castaner answered that he wasn't aware of this specific issue but tried to reassure reporters, explaining there's a need to limit the number of journalists during certain visits. "As you've seen during the campaign, the presence of 50 journalists and a dozen (television) cameras can affect direct dialogue and discussions that the president has with the French," he said. "It's not about controlling. It's not about imposing anything."
Castaner said they are committed to letting journalists do their jobs.