Can a new Prime Minister save François Hollande?by Christine Ockrent / April 24, 2014 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine
Master tactician: Manuel Valls. © Fondapol
François Hollande is a remarkable tactician. A master at surfing the currents of the Socialist Party, he has covered up cold-blooded manoeuvering with well-told jokes.
But such skills are no replacement for strategy. Too cautious to take straightforward decisions, Hollande has trapped himself in a mess of unfulfilled promises, verbal incantations and half-baked reforms. This has irritated taxpayers, discouraged business, disappointed socialist traditionalists and done little to improve the dire condition of the economy and national psyche. No one has deciphered what his long-term policies might be, short of waiting for a better economic cycle. After almost two years in office, Hollande is the most unpopular president in the history of the Fifth Republic.
Hollande was bruised by the local elections in March, which delivered a stinging defeat for his party, a victory for the conservatives, a breakthrough for Marine Le Pen’s far right and, even more worrying, an unprecedented abstention rate. Hollande’s loyal and tepid Prime Minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, was ousted.
After much hesitation, the President made the bold, inescapable choice to replace him with the best-rated of his cabinet ministers: Manuel Valls, Minister of the Interior—a long time mayor of a difficult Paris “banlieue,” young by French political standards (at 51), energetic and very good at spinning.
This is unprecedented in French politics: a weak President flanked by a popular, vigorous Prime Minister who has never hidden his ambition for the top job. Valls is a self-avowed social li…