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New French PM Valls faces 'moment of truth'

Joshua Melvin · 8 Apr 2014, 11:33

Published: 08 Apr 2014 11:33 GMT+02:00

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CLICK HERE to find out what Valls said in his first speech as Prime Minister

Valls, appointed by President François Hollande last week, will be hoping his 3pm speech in the National Assembly and subsequent vote of confidence will help to get his administration off on the front foot,

Undoubtedly the key issue is what the new PM plans to do about the struggling French economy and record-high unemployment rate.

His spokesman told French daily Le Monde on Tuesday the prime minister will lay out concrete details on how the government will achieve the goals put forth in President François Hollande's economy plan the ‘Responsibility Pact’, and his call for €50 billion in budget savings.

"What will be most interesting is where he plans to find the €50 billion in savings, that will clearly have to be accomplished through cuts," Madani Cheurfa, the executive director of Sciences Po Political Research Centre told The Local. "Will this be a speech that announces sacrifices?"

Will it be Churchillian, tears and blood, or on the contrary will it be a speech of attempting to calm people? In France we always ask will this person have the courage to tell the truth?"

It is due in large part to France’s struggling economy that Valls, previously the interior minister, wound up replacing Jean-Marc Ayrault as prime minister.

Ayrault was sacked in the wake of the drubbing Hollande’s Socialist party took in the municipal elections last month, a defeat seen largely as a rebuke of the government’s inability to fix the economy. The new PM, who has been preparing his speech for days, says his message will be about "building trust".

The Bank of France said growth for the first quarter of the year would be 0.2 percent - higher than the figure of 0.1 percent expected by the INSEE statistics institute.

Official figures also showed an improvement in the trade deficit in February in a tentative sign that the clouds over the French economy are thinning.

Valls told to be himself

The rhetoric of the speech will also set the tone for Valls’s administration. Some critics saw the wordy and flaccid speech given by Ayrault after assuming the prime minister’s job in 2012 to be the harbinger of the trouble that was to come.    

French daily Le Figaro reported that Hollande has encouraged Valls to be himself on Tuesday afternoon. Valls, a native Spaniard, is known for sometimes ferocious, straight-shooting oratory that has helped build a steady, popular base of support among French voters.

Following the speech, lawmakers in France’s lower house, the National Assembly, will vote whether or not to back Valls’ government. Given the Socialists have an absolute majority, 291 seats out of 577, a strict party-line vote should see him and his new government easily approved. However the far-left Front de Gauche deputies say they will not vote in favour of the government.

However, there is a dissident branch of the party which just one day after the painful run-off elections published a letter which called for, in part, an end to austerity measures in Europe.

That demand runs counter to the cuts envisaged by Hollande’s pact.

If the 90 socialists who signed the letter refuse to vote or vote against Valls, a seemingly pro-forma act could end catastrophically for Hollande. If the Assembly lawmakers vote no confidence in Valls’ government, Hollande has the 'nuclear option' of dissolving the body, which would prompt new national elections.

Cheurfa pointed out that could be a reckless tactic given the Socialists poor showing in the most recent elections.

Joshua Melvin (joshua.melvin@thelocal.com)

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