Hollande Makes Cazeneuve French Prime Minister as Time Runs Down

  • Cazeneuve replaces Manuel Valls who’s running for president
  • Socialists in disarray as Republicans, Le Pen lead race

President Francois Hollande picked the soft-spoken Bernard Cazeneuve to oversee the French government for the final months of his term as attention within the Socialist camp turns to next year’s election.

Cazeneuve, 53, will take office as prime minister Tuesday and will keep on all the government’s heavyweights, including Michel Sapin as finance minister, Hollande’s office said in a statement. His predecessor Manuel Valls quit this week to run for president.

The new premier is a trusted aide to Hollande who served as interior minister since 2015, overseeing the government’s response to a wave of terrorist attacks that left more than 200 people dead. A native of the northwestern shipbuilding city of Cherbourg, Cazeneuve’s challenge as prime minister will be to ensure those security measures stay on track and keep the party’s querulous lawmakers in line.

The nomination “is a respectable choice,” said Eric Ciotti, a lawmaker from the opposition Republicans said on France Info radio. “Politically it will just be the same thing,” said Alexis Corbiere, the spokesman for far-left Jean-Luc Melenchon, who is running against the Socialists in the presidential race.

Le Pen Threat

Valls resigned on Monday to campaign for the Socialist Party’s January primary and warned France’s divided left that it risks letting anti-European candidate Marine Le Pen into office if it doesn’t get its act together. Polls suggest Le Pen is likely to win most votes in April’s first-round ballot as her long-standing opposition to immigration finds favor with voters unnerved by Islamist attacks.

“I don’t want France to relive the trauma it had in 2002 with the far-right in the second round of a presidential election,” Valls said Monday as he announced his candidacy. “Today it’s at the doors of power. Its platform would ruin the small people, the retirees, the blue-collar workers. It would expel us from Europe, it would eject us from history.”

Two former members of Valls’s government who quit over policy disagreements -- Arnaud Montebourg and Benoit Hamon -- are also running in the primary, while two independent candidates -- moderate former economy minister Emmanuel Macron, and Communist-backed Melenchon -- will be competing for votes with the Socialist nominee.

Hollande’s Legacy

Hollande cleared the path for Valls’s bid last week when he said he won’t seek re-election because divisions on the left risk handing the presidency to extremist parties. Le Pen and Francois Fillon, a Republican standard bearer for harsh economic medicine, have established themselves as front-runners while polls show candidates on the left are unlikely to make it to the runoff in May.

The president’s approval rating jumped 13 percentage points in a month to 29 percent after he abandoned hopes of a second term, according to an Ifop-Fiducial survey for Paris Match magazine. Valls’s approval rating meanwhile dropped 1 point.

While Hollande is the first head of state not to seek re-election, no sitting prime minister has won a presidential election. Jacques Chirac in 1988, Edouard Balladur in 1995, and Lionel Jospin in 2002 all failed. Valls won just 5 percent support when he ran in the Socialist primary in 2011.

“Valls’s biggest handicap is that he will have to defend Hollande’s record, but he can finesse this by denouncing Hollande’s hesitations and saying that he’ll do what needs to be done with greater vigor and less head-scratching,” Art Goldhammer, a researcher affiliated with Harvard University’s Center for European Studies, said on his blog. “One challenge will be to fend off Montebourg on his left within the primary and Macron on his right outside.”

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