Two of France’s top political jobs have gone to Spanish immigrants.
Barcelona-born Manuel Valls, 51, was yesterday sworn in as the country’s prime minister. Anne Hidalgo, 54, who hails from San Fernando, in the southern province of Andalucia, won the election on March 30 to become the mayor of Paris -- making history by being the first woman to take the helm at the French capital. Both acquired French citizenship in their youth.
Valls now heads the executive arm of Europe’s second-largest economy and Hidalgo runs Paris, effectively a state within the French state, with an 8-billion euro ($11 billion) annual budget. The two earned their stripes after decades of work in local politics and by climbing the Socialist Party’s political ladder.
Their ascent was celebrated by the Spanish media, with La Vanguardia newspaper yesterday calling it “a demonstration of the social integration model” of France. El Periodico’s deputy publisher Albert Saez wrote that France “continues to give” Spanish immigrants opportunities.
Valls and Hidalgo’s rise follows that of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, the son of a Hungarian immigrant and grandson of a Jewish immigrant from Salonika. While France still struggles with integrating its more recent immigrants and their children, including in unemployment-plagued suburbs, it hasn’t suffered Spain’s brain drain after the economic crisis hit southern Europe.
“Spain’s self-destructive ability” is still continuing, Saez wrote yesterday. “Thousands of youth flee Spain, terrified by a choking country that isn’t giving them a chance.”
The Spanish government imposed the harshest cuts in the country’s democratic history after its budget shortfall ballooned during the first phase of the financial crisis. The government changed labor laws to make it easier to fire workers, raised the retirement age, cut subsidies for renewable power producers and imposed spending restrictions on regional leaders.
Although France is struggling with an economy that has barely grown in two years and joblessness that’s at a record high, its situation has never plumbed the lows of Spain.
Still, the actions of Valls -- who unveiled his cabinet of ministers today, including Michel Sapin as the new finance minister -- will be watched closely for signs the Catalan is drawing inspiration from his former home country.
Valls advocates budgetary discipline and favors adding the target of a deficit of 3 percent of gross domestic product to the constitution. Valls, who was a candidate in the Socialist presidential primaries in 2011, campaigned on market-friendly stances, including an end to the 35-hour workweek and an increase in the minimum retirement age.
As a lawmaker in 2010, Valls said the European Commission should have control over national budgets.
“France has now got a very tough political guy who will seek to take decisions that France has avoided taking since Hollande came into office,” Denis MacShane, Europe Minister in Blair’s Labour government and friend of Valls said in an interview by telephone from Canada.
The son of a Spanish painter, Valls was born in Barcelona’s La Horta neighborhood. His mother is a Swiss citizen from the Italian-speaking part of the Helvetic nation.
He moved to France before he obtained his citizenship at the age of 20 in 1982. He joined the Socialist Party in 1980 and worked under several administrations, including with Prime Minister Lionel Jospin from 1997 to 2002. He was the mayor of the Paris suburb of Evry from 2001 to 2012 and President Francois Hollande’s campaign spokesman.
For Valls, the talk of integration stops at soccer. When the FC Barcelona football team eliminated Paris-Saint Germain in the Champions League quarter finals in 2013, Valls said he had rooted for the French team. He does little, however, to hide his love for the Catalan giants.
For her part, Hidalgo, the daughter economic immigrants, arrived in the city of Lyon at the age of two. On her campaign website, she said she “immediately fell in love with her public school” in France.
“I will always defend the French Republic’s integration model,” she said.
The former deputy mayor of Paris, who’ll be sworn in on April 5, takes over a city that confronts challenges faced by many of the world’s metropolises: housing prices rising beyond the means of many workers, the loss of manufacturing jobs and a widening gulf between the rich and the poor.
She has pledged to stick to her Socialist roots: emphasizing diversity and adding subsidized-housing units, increasing the share of the city’s housing stock that’s rent-controlled to 30 percent by 2030.
She also wants to keep to her predecessor’s tight budget management.
While Hidalgo has been in France from an early age, she shows she straddles both Spain and her adopted country, talking frequently about Andalusian delicacies such as the shrimp dish “camarones” and ’’madeleines of Proust,’’ a French childhood favorite.