France's new Prime Minister Manuel Valls speaks to the nation for the first time on Wednesday and vowed to restore hope and optimism in France. Photo: Screengrab TF1
France's new Prime Minister Manuel Valls addressed the nation for the first time on Wednesday, vowing to restore "hope and optimism" in a country full of "division" and "gloom". The TV appearance came after he announced his new "combative" government.
New French PM Manuel Valls faces the tall challenge of turning around the unpopular government's fortunes in time for Hollande to stand a chance of winning a second five-year term in 2017.
The new premier had his eyes on that date as he got down to business Wednesday, telling TV station TF1 his ambition for France was "that by the end of Francois Hollande's term, the people of France will live better, that they will again have hope".
"There's division, pessimism and gloom in our country," he said. "The country is facing a lot of difficulties. They are undeniable, and we are here to overcome them. But we also have a lot of assets. It's time to restore hope, and that is my task.
With the country battling the economic doldrums, there was also major change at the finance ministry, in charge of sorting out stubbornly high unemployment and budget deficits after 22 months of Socialist rule.
As part of Valls's reshuffle Pierre Moscovici, who as finance and economy minister was unable to pull France out of its rut, was replaced by two contrasting politicians. Former labour minister Michel Sapin, a supporter of budgetary rigour, was appointed to the powerful post of finance minister.
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Left-wing firebrand Arnaud Montebourg, a prominent critic of globalisation seen by some as anti-business, was named economy minister, a promotion from his former brief of industrial renewal.
Opposition leader Jean-Francois Cope slammed these nominations, pointing out that Sapin failed to bring down the country's jobless numbers, which in February reached a record 3.34 million people.
Montebourg has made headlines with his outspoken criticism of EU-backed austerity measures supported by Sapin, and of neighbour and ally Germany, which he has blamed for factory closures in France.
In 2011, before the Socialists came to power, he accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of "Bismarck-style" policies, a reference to Germany's first chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, who humiliated France in the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian war.
"He is going to discuss our economic policy in Europe, particularly with the Germans, whom he has copiously insulted for two years," Cope said.
Montebourg also grabbed headlines when he labelled the head of tyre giant Titan an "extremist" after the CEO criticised the French workforce as lazy, and he got into a very public fight with steelmaker ArcelorMittal over the closure of a plant.
Valls is very clearly on the right of the governing party, having once proposed dropping "Socialist" from its name.