France’s Hollande names new Prime Minister after election reverse


French President Francois Hollande has chosen centrist Interior Minister Manuel Valls as his new prime minister, a coalition source said, replacing Jean-Marc Ayrault who quit after the ruling Socialists were trounced in local elections.
The 51-year-old Valls has been compared with «New Labour» former British premier Tony Blair both for his pro-business ideas and his dashing style. He is a bogeyman to the Socialist left, having proposed changing the party’s name and criticised the flagship 35-hour work week it pioneered over a decade ago.
The choice of Valls, the Barcelona-born son of Spanish immigrant parents, suggested Hollande is set to amplify an EU-mandated shift towards pro-market economic reforms and public spending cuts rather than turn back as left-wingers demanded.
Political commentators have compared Valls, who has taken a tough line on crime and Roma migrants, with former conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, who earned his spurs as a security hardliner in the same ministerial position.
Speculation of a cabinet reshuffle mounted after Ayrault acknowledged he and his ministers bore part of the blame for yesterday’s defeat, which saw 155 towns swing to the centre-right UMP and the far-right National Front claim 11.
Facing the lowest popularity levels of any president in the 56-year-old Fifth Republic, Hollande changed tack earlier this year towards a more pro-business stance aimed at spurring investment and jobs through cuts in corporate social charges.
The president has said a mid-April vote in parliament on his «responsibility pact» package of 30 billion euros ($41.35 billion) in tax cuts for companies will also be a vote of confidence in his government.

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