Friday, 1 November 2013

FRANCE: Manuel Valls-The Leftist Sarkozy

Less than in two years, French President, Francois Hollande, has wasted the potential for trust given him by the voters. While President Hollande's authority crumbles, his interior minister, Manuel Valls, has become France's most popular politician -- much to the chagrin of his own party.

According to a poll, if the election was held today, only nine percent of the French would vote for him. Leading in popularity is Interior Minister Manuel Valls famous for sounding the alarm about the Africanization of France and deporting Romas. 33 percent of French people would like to see Valls the President, while Francois Hollande was chosen by only nine percent of those polled. The most unexpected result of the poll is that 80 percent of the French are confident that the next presidential election will be won by a right wing candidate.

The left-wing has a chance for success only if Valls is the one who runs (54 percent would support his candidacy). For the first time since 1974, the President-elect is losing popularity so quickly that his unfitness as a candidate for the second consecutive term became apparent so early. The President is losing the respect not only of the people, but also his party. Even among supporters of PS, Hollande's leadership causes serious doubts (37 percent versus 24 percent for Valls).
 
In addition to personal traits, French President, Francois Hollande, also loses points in the economic performance of the country, despite the fact that this is something Hollande always talks about and this is why he won the election. He is not fulfilling his promises. France broke the record in terms of the number of unemployed - 3.5 million people (11 percent of the working population). In September alone the army of the unemployed was joined by another 60,000 French, the highest growth since early 2009.

The national debt continues to rise and has reached 93.4 percent of GDP at the end of the second quarter of this year. A distinctive feature of the budget for 2014 submitted by the Government is one of the world's highest taxes.

In particular, the value added tax in the new budget is increased to the maximum possible value - 20 percent. The budget also includes an increase of income tax on wealthy French with the annual income in excess of 1 million euro to 75 percent. The tax will not be paid by citizens but the companies that employ them.

To reduce the deficit, the budget provides for a reduction in spending by 15 billion euros. Mainly this will be done through the reduction of social benefits and pensions. Back in August Hollande promised to take a "fiscal pause," but has not fulfilled the promise. According to the forecasts of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the growth of the French economy in 2014 will be only 0.8 percent.

Hollande is solving some insignificant problems. For example, the President approved a law allowing same-sex marriages and adoption of children by homosexuals. He could not renounce the sacred principles of democracy and tolerance. His interior minister Manuel Valls contrasts favorably with him in this regard.  A French official said that he "supported Hollande as a rope supported a hanged man."

Valls recently stated the need to review the country's migration policy against Africans and questioned the compatibility of Islam and democracy. He also said that the Roma will never be able to merge into the French society and promised to pursue a policy of mass deportation. Several colleagues of Valls on condition of anonymity told the newspaper LeParisien that the Minister presented "a real political problem."

However, the President does not see it. He tries to reconcile the Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, writes a letter to 15 year-old Leonarda Dibrani with an invitation to return to France (but without the parents), and then argues that France would oppose the entry of Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen zone. Meanwhile, the majority of the French people support Valls' tough stance (74 percent) in the case of Leonarda. While, 65 percent of respondents said they opposed the return of Leonarda to the country.

The story of Manuel Valls is one of a rapid ascent. In a country whose political class is now despised, the interior minister still manages to garner high approval ratings, most recently at 56 percent. Hollande is stagnating at a historical low of 23 percent, while Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and the rest of Hollande's government aren't faring much better.

For months, Valls' fellow cabinet ministers have had to endure positive media stories about him. The weekly news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur once dubbed him the "vice president" on its cover, though France's parliamentary system has no such office. According to a new poll, Valls stands a better chance of winning the 2017 election than Hollande does. This is the kind of news that arouses envy among his fellow Socialists.

They are suspicious of Valls because one source of his popularity is his general disregard for the traditionalist mainstream of the French left. Many Socialists doubt that he is even one of them in spirit. Valls, on the other hand, sees himself as a hands-on politician, especially when it comes to dealing with immigration, which is naturally part of his job as interior minister. Indeed, with his tough stance on immigrants, he often sparks disagreements within the government. In many respects, he differs only slightly from his conservative predecessors.

His uncompromising approach to the Roma is especially controversial. Although there are only 15,000 to 20,000 Roma living in France, they are a perennial issue in domestic politics. Like the government under former President Nicolas Sarkozy did, Valls has had the authorities destroy illegal Roma camps and expel their residents, a policy for which the European Court of Human Rights recently condemned France. In September, Valls said that "only a minority of Roma want to integrate," and that their lifestyle conflicts with that of the French population. According to a survey, 77 percent of the French agreed with Valls.

Perhaps one reason Valls is so uncompromising toward immigrants is that he is one himself. He was born in Barcelona to a Catalan father and a Swiss mother from the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, and he only became a French citizen at 20. He grew up in France, he notes, at a time when it "wasn't as hip to be Spanish as it is today." This is the furthest he'll go in talking about difficulties. He is not a man who likes to offer insights into his own feelings.

Thanks to his parents and the French republican school system, he learned to be a Frenchman, and he doesn't stop declaring his love for his adopted country. "You have to be proud to be a Frenchman, to be part of this nation, with its great history," he says. As mayor, he introduced ceremonies for new citizens in which the French national anthem, "La Marseillaise," was sung.

Despite his patriotism, Valls is proud of his origins and doesn't try to hide them. Unlike other French ministers, he also gives interviews in Spanish and Catalan. When he was recently asked on a Barcelona radio station whether a Catalan could become France's president, he replied that "it is possible" although the question isn't being raised. He did note, however, that Nicolas Sarkozy "was of Hungarian origin."

Valls is often compared with Sarkozy, and some even call him the "leftist Sarko." They both have foreign roots and a penchant for law and order in common. But they also share another important trait: Both launched their careers without having attended France's elite École Nationale d'Administration (ENA). When Valls was once asked what he and Sarkozy had in common, he replied: "Energy."

At the moment, Valls is doing his best to veil his big ambitions. But it's quite possible that Hollande will appoint him prime minister soon if one day he tries to embark on a new beginning. Hardly anyone doubts that Valls will run for the presidency again in the future. But if Hollande runs again, which is widely expected, Valls will have to wait until 2022.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AP-French Interior Minister Manuel Valls-Photo