In a stunning defeat for France’s Socialist Party, fifty big cities voted for the center-right party in local elections this past weekend—some of which have been long held by the left. Now President François Hollande appears to be changing course. He has appointed Manuel Valls as his government’s new Prime Minister. Valls is known as a tough-talking, immigrant-deporting figure from the far Right of his party, as the FT notes:
In an article for the Financial Times in 2009, Mr Valls lambasted the French left for being pompous and utopian, said there was “no longer an alternative to the capitalist system and market economy”, and dismissed the term “socialist” as outdated. In his presidential primary campaign in 2011, Mr Valls won just 6 per cent support from Socialist voters […]It was Mr Valls’ hard line as interior minister over the past two years, particularly against illegal immigrants, that most recently infuriated many on the left.This was most in evidence last year when Mr Valls backed the deportation of a Roma teenager and her family after the young girl was detained by police while on a school outing.
But Hollande faces wider European challenges as well as domestic dissent. The FT reports on Hollande’s new budget priorities. Currently the EU government in Brussels is giving France until 2015 to lower its budget deficit to 3 percent of national income. But after appointing Valls, Hollande called for that deadline to be pushed back, saying the country needs more time to grow its economy. Another French politician who has risen amid Hollande’s cabinet reshuffles, Arnaud Montebourg, is also vocally opposing the European Union for its “austerity and dogma.” A showdown with Germany over this deficit target looms, as Germany is the EU member most likely to insist on hard budget deadlines for France. For Hollande, appeasing voters means tacking to the right on issues like immigration and tacking to the left against EU budget requirements even as he tries to introduce a few pro-business reforms. Germany might like the reforms, and anti-immigrant politics is something German politicians understand, but the budget is still a red line.Hollande and his new Prime Minister face a hard road ahead.