French Interior Minister Cazeneuve appointed PM Valls quits to run for president
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve was appointed as the new prime minister yesterday after Manuel Valls resigned to seek the Socialist nomination in next year’s presidential election. Cazeneuve, who has overseen the security forces’ reaction to a string of jihadist attacks that have killed more than 230 people in France over the past two years, will take control of the Socialist government until the election in May.
The widely-respected former lawyer was named to the post after President Francois Hollande accepted Valls’s resignation yesterday. Cazeneuve, 53, has served in various government roles, including budget minister and minister in charge of European affairs, before becoming interior minister in April 2014. Bruno Le Roux, leader of the Socialists in the lower house of parliament, will take over the interior portfolio. The mini-reshuffle comes after Valls, who has been prime minister for the past two-and-a-half years, said on Monday he would step down to contest a leftwing primary in January. The 54-year-old quit the government to devote himself to the presidential race, in which polls currently show him trailing in fifth place overall. Announcing his candidacy on Monday, he vowed to take on the conservative Republicans and the far-right National Front led by Marine Le Pen. His announcement came four days after Hollande said he would bow out after a single term, paving the way for his divisive premier to try to become the left’s new standard bearer.
Far-right ‘at the gates’
“My candidacy is one of reconciliation,” Valls said in a speech from his political base in the gritty Paris suburb of Evry. The far right, which was beaten in Austria’s presidential election at the weekend, was “at the gates of power” in France with a nationalist program that would “ruin” the poor, he warned. Polls show Le Pen and conservative candidate Francois Fillon far out in front in the opening round of the election on April 23, with Fillon expected to beat Le Pen in May’s second round.
Valls would crash out with 10 percent if he won the nomination-behind Fillon, Le Pen, centrist former economy minister Emmanuel Macron and the Communist-backed Jean-Luc Melenchon, an Ifop-Fiducial poll showed yesterday. On Monday, Valls attacked Fillon, a self-declared Thatcherite, accusing him of rehashing “the old recipes of the 1980s”. “We’re told that Francois Fillon is the next president of the Republic. Nothing is set in stone,” he said defiantly.
Spanish-born Valls, whose family fled Franco’s dictatorship to France when he was a teenager, faces an uphill battle to unite his camp. He will go up against seven other candidates in the two-round primary on January 22 and 29, including Arnaud Montebourg, another former economy minister from a leftist Socialist faction. Many on the left see Valls as a rightwinger after he used decrees to force through labor reforms and called for dualnational terror convicts to be stripped of their French nationality. His stern line on secularism and Islam has also turned off many lifelong Socialists. Last summer, he waded into the debate on the Islamic “burkini”, declaring the fullbody swimsuit “not compatible” with French values. But the blackest mark on his candidacy could be his government’s bleak economic record. Le Pen has dismissed him as the unpopular Hollande’s “double”. When Valls last sought the Socialist nomination five years ago, he garnered only 5.6 percent. Former education minister Benoit Hamon, one of his challengers in the primary, said yesterday that faced with a rising hard right, the Socialists needed to pick someone who represented “a proper left”. “It seems to me that he (Valls) cannot embody the future of the left,” Hamon said. — AFP
PARIS: French Prime Minister Manuel Valls (left) and French Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve leaving the weekly cabinet meeting at the Elysee presidential Palace in Paris. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve was appointed as the new prime minister yesterday after Manuel Valls resigned to seek the Socialist nomination in the presidential election. — AFP