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France's ex-PM Manuel Valls declares candidacy for Barcelona mayor

Pau Barrena, AFP | Fromer prime minister Manuel Valls in Barcelona on March 18.

France's former prime minister Manuel Valls announced his candidacy for mayor of Barcelona on Tuesday, ending months of speculation over his intentions to enter the race.

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Valls – who has dual French and Spanish citizenship – has made regular trips to the Catalonian capital throughout the summer.

On one of his most recent visits, he took part in an event to promote Anatomia del Proces, a book examining the challenges of Catalonian independence that he wrote the preface to. He has also joined the faculty at the city’s ESADE law school for the 2018-2019 academic calendar as a professor of “Migratory Processes and Urban Geography”.

Valls’ growing presence in Barcelona – and his increasingly outspoken views against Catalonian independence – set rumours swirling that he would run in the next mayoral election in May 2019. After months of teasing his interest, Valls officially announced his intention to run on Tuesday.

“Say what you will. But only one thing matters to me, how I will be perceived in Barcelona,” Valls told French newspaper L’Express in early September.

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.

Valls will face an uphill battle in his run for Barcelona mayor. Despite being born there he grew up 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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