France has a new prime minister. Until now interior minister, the appointment of Manuel Valls is President Hollande’s main response to his ruling Socialist party’s disastrous showing in the country’s local elections.
Valls replaces Jean-Marc Ayrault who pays the price for a struggling economy, high unemployment and the government’s deep unpopularity.
“You have expressed your discontent and your disappointment. I have come here to tell you that I have heard your message because it is clear,” Hollande told TV viewers in a live broadcast.
“I have therefore entrusted Manuel Valls with the mission of leading the French government. He has the qualities to do it. It will be a strengthened, coherent and closely-knit team – how can I say – a government of combat,” he went on.
In what he described as a “new phase”, Hollande said that one of the government’s priorities would be to kickstart the economy and create jobs.
Many French people are well acquainted with Valls from his dynamic but controversial period in charge of the interior ministry.
“As interior minister, he had certain tasks to accomplish, as prime minister the task will be much more difficult and is that a good choice? Well the future will tell us. In any case, I wish him lots of courage,” said one man in Paris.
A young woman had doubts: “He (Valls) does not so much manage as go on the offensive. And it’s not really what we expect, it’s not really what the French expect. In other words you manage a crisis with a certain calmness, a certain diplomacy and Valls – each time there has been a crisis – he has gone on the offensive.”
The elections saw the Socialists lose control of 155 towns and cities to the conservative UMP party. Another 11 were won by the populist Front National.
Some see Valls’ nomination as a sign that Hollande is looking to give his government and its overall direction a major shake-up.