France Gets a Young Blood

Besides the fact that, as his wife allegedly puts it, "Lots of women would like to sleep with him" (Financial Times, 5-6 April), Manuel Valls, 51, but looking much younger, is at the antipodes of his predecessor, Jean-Marc Ayrault -- the image of a provincial notable, bland, colorless and docile -- who was peremptorily replaced on 7 April following the socialist rout in the municipal elections. Ayrault forthwith left without a murmur, so to speak, by rail to his home town of Nantes, demonstrating once again the implacable finality of the French state's decisions.

Valls is a communicator of considerable punch, with a tough-guy image cultivated in his most recent job as Interior Minister, where he acquired near rock-star popularity among the general population. He had been communications director for François Hollande's successful presidential campaign against Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012. Before that he was a close aide of Hollande's ex-partner, Ségolène Royal, who has now come full circle and has entered the Valls Government in the No. 3 position as Environment, Energy and Transport Minister. The way became open for the charismatic Royal after earlier this year President Hollande ended his relationship with his second partner, Valérie Trierweiller. Still earlier, Valls had worked as an aide to former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.

Manuel Valls is the first French Prime Minister born outside the country, in Barcelona, to a Spanish father and a Swiss Italian mother. The family were Spanish Republicans who were forced to flee the Franco regime and come to France when Manuel was a little child. He speaks, besides French, Spanish, Catalan and Italian.

Valls is on the right wing of the French Socialist Party, and even at one time suggested taking the word socialist out of the party's name. He can best be described as a social democrat, as Hollande also declared himself recently. This is a term that is still a pejorative on much of the French Left, which cannot completely shake off its Marxist past, unlike the Socialist Party's counterpart, the Democratic Soclalist Party of Germany.

Valls passed his "grand oral" with flying colors on 8 April before the French National Assembly. He spelled out President Hollande's new turn toward a business-friendly policy, announcing notably 11 billion euros in extra tax cuts for businesses and households and saying that the need to boost fragile growth and job creation must take precedence over EU-enforced austerity (Financial Times, 9 April 2014). Perhaps most importantly, Valls did not lose his temper during persistent heckling from the right. He won easily he Assembly's vote of confidence. On verra.