FRANÇOIS Hollande launched what he has billed as a fresh start to his unpopular 22-month-old presidency yesterday, as a new prime minister took up his post and set about forming a reshuffled government.
Manuel Valls, 51, who as a tough-talking interior minister has consistently been Mr Hollande’s most popular minister in surveys, replaced Jean-Marc Ayrault who quit following the ruling Socialist Party’s rout in weekend local elections.
“This is a difficult but inspiring task,” Mr Valls said as he took up his post in a brief handover ceremony with Mr Ayrault at the 18th-century Matignon mansion in central Paris which serves as the prime minister’s office.
“I will continue the work you have done to put right our country, economy, industry and public finances,” he said.
While Mr Valls is a public favourite, including with conservative voters, his centrist views make him more controversial with the left wing of the Socialist Party. He is an energetic, popular figure and seen as the most right-leaning politician in the Socialist leadership.
He angered leftists by leading a tough line on crime and on Roma as interior minister.
Among his first duties will be to propose a new government as early as tomorrow, after the previous one resigned with the prime minister on Monday.
However, two ministers from Mr Hollande’s Green coalition partners who had worked in Mr Ayrault’s cabinet said on Monday they would not be available to work with Mr Valls.
The aim is to come up with a government team of around 25 members more effective than the outgoing group of 38, whose squabbling and indecisiveness gave an impression of amateurishness.
Speculation has centred on whether Pierre Moscovici will remain in the powerful finance minister’s job, while coalition sources have also talked about a possible return to government for Ségolène Royal, Mr Hollande’s ex-partner and a former Socialist presidential candidate.
Industry minister Arnaud Montebourg, a critic of austerity policies and a believer in protectionism to secure jobs, gave public support to Mr Valls on national radio yesterday. Some sources said he could end up with an expanded portfolio.
Laurent Fabius could remain as foreign minister, possibly with extra responsibilities for trade and the pursuit of what he calls “economic diplomacy” to seek business opportunities for French firms abroad.
France – which has endured unemployed levels of 10 per cent in recent years – could boost sluggish growth by easing the tax burden on business, allowing them to take on more employees, and households, giving them more to spend on goods in order to boost business takings.
But the budget deficit may not be down below the European Union treaty limit of 3 per cent of gross domestic product in 2015 as promised.