Robert Harneis – TDO- French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has resigned to fight in the coming presidential elections. He has been replaced by the Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve.
Valls has risen rapidly from relative obscurity within the Socialist party and the government of François Hollande. In 2011 he achieved only 5.83% of the votes in the Socialist primary, coming fourth. He is on the extreme right of the party. He was first Minister of the Interior, a post usually reserved for right wingers by the Socialists and when François Hollande veered to the right in 2014 he again was the beneficiary, becoming Prime Minister. His policies are virtually indistinguishable from those of the preceding right wing government of Nicolas Sarkozy and François Fillon. Hence the widespread disenchantment with him and President Hollande amongst many Socialist voters.
He has been visibly impatient to join in the campaign but has had to wait for his President to get out of the way.
He is less unpopular than Hollande but will have great difficulty in reuniting a widely dispersed Left. It is a given that no Socialist can be elected President in France without at least the tacit support of the non-Socialist far left and the Greens. His strengths in the primary are his reputation for firmness and the division of his rivals.
To replace him as Prime Minister, President Hollande has chosen a safe pair of hands in Bernard Cazeneuve. He has served with discretion and competence as Minister of the Budget, Minister for Europe and most recently as Minister of the Interior. He is thus experienced in the three most sensitive policy areas – finance, the European Union and security. With France still under a state of emergency clearly there are worries about a terrorist attack in the run up to the elections.
However, the first challenge will be dealing with the risk of fallout from the defeat of the Italian government in the recent constitutional amendment at the hands of anti-Euro political parties. Thanks to years of economic recession blamed on austerity policies originating in Brussels and Berlin, there is widespread sympathy with the idea of Italy leaving the Euro. With similar if less severe problems, where Italy goes there will be calls for France to follow.