Relief. Most players in the sector of care for the elderly or people with disabilities have been holding their breath for several days, hoping for the departure of Damien Abad from the government. Implicated for attempted rape, targeted by a judicial inquiry, the Minister of Solidarity, Autonomy and Disabled People was not renewed in the new team of Elisabeth Borne. He castigated “the despicable slanders” against him, promising that he would defend himself “relentlessly until justice confirms [his] innocence”, before leaving Avenue Duquesne on Monday.

“Whatever moral judgment one makes of Mr. Abad, everyone was paralyzed for weeks. His cabinet received no one. Everything was on stand-by, there was real unease, ”says Luc Broussy, president of the silver economy sector, which brings together market players for seniors. In addition to the departure of a disputed minister, “the other excellent news” is the appointment of “an indisputable professional”, exclaims Mr. Broussy. Jean-Christophe Combe to succeed him: in his eyes, “one could hardly dream of a better profile”.

At 40, Mr. Combe has been director general of the French Red Cross since 2017. Coming from civil society and without any electoral mandate, he appears to be the antithesis of his predecessor. “Combe has a very operational profile, slices a connoisseur of the social and solidarity economy sector. He is a results-loving man, he will do the job meticulously. »

“Consensual and not politically marked”

Jean-Marc Borello, boss of the SOS group, operator in the same niche as the Red Cross, also approves “Combe’s appointment, an excellent idea”. “He has the advantage of having led an association whose field goes from hospitals to nurseries, through centers for minors and retirement homes, which will be a central subject of his ministry”, underlines this close friend of Emmanuel Macron, member of the leadership of the presidential party, La République en Marche. Further, “it is consensual and not politically branded.”

Mr. Combe is less removed from the political spheres than it seems. A graduate of Sciences Po Paris, he quickly made his way to the center right. Technical adviser to the centrist group in the Senate, from 2003, he spent a few months at the audit firm Deloitte in 2006, then became director of the cabinet of Bruno Bourg-Broc, mayor (UMP, former name of the Les Républicains party) of Châlons -en-Champagne from 2007 to 2009, before leading the cabinet of Emmanuel Lamy, mayor (UMP) of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (Yvelines) from 2009 to 2011.

In 2011, he joined the Red Cross, became director of the cabinet of its president, Jean-François Mattei, former centrist health minister of Jacques Chirac from 2002 to 2004. Mr. Combe rose through the ranks before taking over the management general of the humanitarian association six years later. He perfects his networks among local elected officials and acquires a good knowledge of the old age sector through the 35 accommodation establishments for dependent elderly people and the 50 Red Cross home help services, which have the same difficulties than for-profit and public operators – shortage of professionals, insufficient public funds.

Mr. Combe prided himself on wanting to move the Red Cross “from associative management to entrepreneurial management, while maintaining a strong social and humanitarian project”. This is how he restored a balanced budget in 2016. The CGT, the first union within the institution, criticizes “his permanent and absolute search for economic performance”, which led him to the sale of part of the real estate heritage to private investors who, in exchange, make the establishments pay rent. Mr. Combe almost sold loss-making health centers to a lucrative private group in the spring. “We opposed the project, which fizzled out,” says Renaud Mandel, CGT representative at the Red Cross.

Apart from this union, the social actors mostly welcome the renovation of the functioning of the Red Cross, which has lost the image of “an old-fashioned institution”. “Performance is the condition of resilience for social actors,” writes M. Combe in his book Humanity does not negotiable (L’Aube, 2021). Having become a minister, the forty-something from Marne will confront this mantra with the demands of a sector that lacks human and financial resources.