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Ex-French prime minister Manuel Valls fuels speculation he will run for Barcelona mayor

Lluis Gene, AFP | Former French prime minister Manuel Valls attends a book signing for Anatomia del Proces in Barcelona on September 6, 2018

Former French prime minister Manuel Valls fuelled speculation that he will soon announce his candidacy for mayor of Barcelona after making a very public appearance in the Catalonian capital on Thursday for a book signing.

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Valls – who has duel French and Spanish citizenship – was in Barcelona to promote Anatomia del Proces, a book examining the challenges of Catalonian independence that he wrote the preface to. His mother, Luisa, and sister, Giovanna, were among the audience members, which also included a number of friends and acquaintances.

“I was born in Barcelona and I feel Catalonian, I’ve always said it,” Valls said. “Catalonia’s strength is that it is Catalonian, Spanish and European all at once.”

Rumours have swirled for months that Valls will run in Barcelona’s next mayoral election in May 2019. But he has yet to declare his candidacy, telling French newspaper le Monde in August that he will officially announce his intentions in the coming weeks.

Valls again teased his interest at Thursday’s book signing, but stopped short of confirming his campaign.

“I can’t talk about that here. When I have something to say, I will do it,” he told French radio Europe 1.

Political woes

Reports that Valls – who served as interior minister and then prime minister under former French president François Hollande – was seeking to reinvent his political career in Barcelona first emerged in April in the Spanish media.

He has watched his political fortunes steadily wane in France ever since resigning as prime minister to run in the country’s 2017 presidential election. After a strong start, he was forced to end his campaign after losing the left-wing primaries to fellow Socialist Benoît Hamon.

Valls, however, refused to endorse Hamon for the presidency. He instead gave his support to independent candidate Emmanuel Macron, who thanked Valls, but ruled out bringing him into his future government.

His presidential dreams dashed, Valls mounted a campaign to run in the country’s June 2017 parliamentary elections as a representative for the Essone region, just south of Paris. He quickly sought to join Macron’s Republic on the Move (La République en Marche or LREM) party, which was set to win a sweeping majority.

But he was left humiliated and party-less after LREM ruled that he did not “fit the criteria” to run under its banner. He was eventually allowed to campaign as a LREM “aligned” candidate, narrowly winning his circumscription by 139 votes.

‘I want to give back to Catalonia and Spain’

After a year of bitter disappointment at home, Valls refocused his attention on Spain, wading into the debate on Catalonian independence. He confirmed that he was seriously “studying” the possibility of running for Barcelona mayor in an interview with Spanish television TVE.

“I implicated myself in this debate because I was born in Barcelona,” Valls said. “I want to give back to Catalonia and Spain everything they have given me.”

The same month, he also announced his separation from his wife of eight years, French violinist Anne Gravoin. He has since been photographed with Susana Gallardo, a Catalonia native and heiress to the Almirall pharmaceutical company. The pair recently appeared on the cover of Paris Match, prompting Valls to sue the magazine for invasion of privacy.

If Valls decides to run for mayor in Barcelona, he will face an uphill battle. Although he was born there, he grew up largely in France, and wasn’t naturalised as a Spanish citizen until he was 20. He will have to convince voters that his campaign is more than a last-ditch attempt to save his political career – a point his rivals have already tried to exploit.

“He failed in France so he’s coming here,” incumbent Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau told French newspaper Le Parisien.

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