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Valls sworn in as PM in Hollande’s ‘last throw of the dice’

Text by Tony TODD

Latest update : 2014-04-04

Manuel Valls officially became France’s new prime minister during a ceremony in Paris on Tuesday, in a move that the French media has portrayed as a major gamble for President François Hollande.

Valls was chosen to replace the country’s outgoing prime minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, following a poor showing for the ruling Socialists in last month’s local elections, which saw a major surge for the opposition UMP party and a record-breaking show for the far-right National Front.

A record abstention – more than a third of voters stayed away from the polls – is widely seen as a punishment for Hollande's failure  to lift France’s struggling economy and stem rising unemployment.

And three years into his mandate, Hollande's decision to promote tough-talking Valls, whose views are often at odds with parts of the ruling left-wing coalition of the Socialist government, are seen as the unpopular French leader’s last chance to get his house in order.

“Valls embodies a coherence and professionalism that has been missing up until now,” left-wing daily "Liberation" said in an editorial on Tuesday. “Three years into his mandate, Hollande is playing his last wild card.”

The view is shared by conservative daily "Le Figaro", which declared on Tuesday that Hollande was “staking everything” on Valls.

'A risky bet'

Hollande, the newspaper said, “had no other choice” than to promote Valls, whose record as interior minister has involved a notably tough approach to immigration. He is France’s most popular minister and enjoys the kind of approval ratings of which Hollande can only dream.

“But it’s a risky bet,” the newspaper said, arguing that Valls’s authoritative stance risks upsetting the fragile balance of the Socialist-led left-wing majority in France’s parliament.

“Hollande has put his most popular minister in the top job while he is the least popular president in recent times,” "Le Figaro" said. It quoted an unnamed councillor as saying the French leader was desperately thinking, “Who is going to save my mandate?”

"Le Monde", France’s left-leaning newspaper of record, was also using the gambling analogy.

Valls's economic liberalism

The appointment was a “somewhat improbable game of poker,” the newspaper said on Tuesday. “Ayrault took care to obtain a consensus in the Socialist-Green parliamentary coalition to maintain his position.

“But Valls is cast from a different mould. He is the incarnation of economic liberalism on one hand and an authoritative disciplinarian on the other.

“We are no longer on the social-democrat path that was the Hollande-Ayrault partnership. The balance has shifted to the right, and this is undoubtedly because the country abandoned the left in [last month’s] local elections.”

That rightward shift is a significant danger for Hollande, who until now has counted on support in government and parliament from both the environmentalists and France’s far-left parties.

Communist daily "L’Humanité" called Hollande’s decision a “double error”.

“France’s left-wing voters punished Hollande at the polls for his political failure,” the newspaper said in an editorial, arguing that instead of addressing their concerns, Hollande was making the fatal error of “shifting his politics to the right by appointing Valls as Prime Minister” and further alienating his support base.

This view was backed up Tuesday by a study in "Liberation" that indicated that a majority of French voters remained attached to the left despite Hollande’s perceived failings.

The principal reason for the swing to the right in the local elections, the newspaper argued, was simply that left-wing voters had chosen to stay at home.

Valls, 51, who officially becomes prime minister at 3pm (GMT+1) on Tuesday, is expected to name his new government on Wednesday.

Date created : 2014-04-01


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