The rise of France’s newly appointed Prime Minister Manuel Valls has been a spectacular one, taking him from the mayor’s office in the impoverished southern Paris suburb of Evry to head of the current government.
Since Valls was appointed interior minister by a newly elected President François Hollande in 2012, he has diligently sought to make a name for himself.
He quickly stood out from other members of the country’s Socialist-led government with his sometimes divergent opinions on public policy, particularly on issues such as security and immigration. Although a longtime member of the Socialist Party, some of Valls’ more conservative views earned him the nickname of “the left-wing Sarkozy”.
Yet Valls’ unique take on politics and popularity made him a natural choice to replace the outgoing prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault.
In the weeks before Hollande’s government reshuffle, 49 percent of French people considered him the most viable candidate to take over the job.
Building a new image
Originally from the Spanish city Barcelona, the 51-year-old Valls is one of the few politicians in France to have become a citizen via naturalization.
The Catalonian first began his political career in 1983 as a parliamentary attaché to an MP from France’s southeastern Ardèche region. Since then, he has served in a number of different roles, including government spokesperson for former Socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin and as mayor of the impoverished southern Paris suburb of Evry.
When Valls took on the job of interior minister nearly two years ago, he showed a resolute desire to use politics as a means to shift away from the traditional image of the French left as being lax.
In an effort to rebrand his party, Valls has occasionally borrowed from policies put together under former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s right-wing administration, sometimes to the surprise of his political base. In June 2012, the interior minister took a firm stance on immigration, announcing that he would maintain immigration quotas put in place by Sarkozy’s government, which only allowed 30,000 people to enter the country legally each year. The measure was justified, Valls explained, because of France's struggling economy.
Valls has also defended the government’s controversial decision to expel members of the Roma community from camps across the country – another policy that hails from the Sarkozy administration. The move, however, not only drew the ire of human rights groups, but also attracted the attention of the European Union, which said it would be monitoring the situation to make sure it did not breach any of the EU’s rules on immigration.
Despite the backlash, Valls reiterated his position on the Roma in September 2013, saying it was “illusory to think that we will solve the Roma problem through integration,” adding that the population was inherently “different”. Although his comments outraged several other members of government, a poll taken shortly afterward revealed that 77 percent of people in France agreed with his position on the issue.
He has also been known to criticise France’s 35-hour work week, a law that was pushed through by Socialists in the late 1990s.
Valls’ hard to pin-down politics and authoritative image have made him one of the most well-liked politicians in France. Until recently, he was the most popular minister within Hollande’s government. However, a study published by polling centre Opinionway last month showed that his approval ratings had fallen to 45 points.
Date created : 2014-03-31