Voilà my reaction à chaud to Manuel Valls’s government. First, on the appointment of Valls as Prime Minister. It was a logical choice for Hollande IMO. After Sunday’s debacle there was no way he could keep Jean-Marc Ayrault at Matignon. Ayrault is a good man but is almost a carbon copy of Hollande—both politically and his persona—and had become inaudible, both with the public and within his own government. No PM in the Fifth Republic has ever seen his stature so diminished (except maybe in the case of the one her, Edith Cresson, but who was ejected by President Mitterrand after serving only nine months). The way the institutions of the Fifth Republic function, the PM is supposed to be the President of the Republic’s firewall, the one who takes the heat and hit in public opinion polls while the president pulls the strings. It’s a screwy system but that’s the way it is. But Ayrault was not fulfilling this function. François Fillon didn’t either as Nicolas Sarkozy’s PM but Fillon was far more popular than Sarko—in the Fifth Republic it’s normally supposed to be the other way around—, such that the latter couldn’t fire him, even if he wished he could. Ayrault’s polls numbers have been slightly higher than Hollande’s but were still very low. So he had to go. It’s too bad he was so unceremoniously pushed out, as, with the exception of Mme Cresson, he’s the PM who lasted the shortest period of time at Matignon before being asked to resign by the president (Chirac, as Giscard d’Estaing’s first PM, also served only two years but he voluntarily quit; he wanted out).
On replacing Ayrault, I had thought that maybe Hollande would ask Laurent Fabius, as he’s a heavyweight, the two are politically on the same page, and he’s finally shed his decades-long unpopularity with the public (the sang contaminé affair is such ancient history that it’s doubtful anyone cares about it anymore, if one even remembers or knows about it). But it was clear that Fabius was not interested in returning to Matignon. He likes the Quai d’Orsay, where he’s doing a good job in the estimation of all, and, as the elder statesman, has nothing to gain at this point in his political career by taking the thankless job of PM. On Monday morning France Inter political editorialist Thomas Legrand spoke of Bertrand Delanoë as a possibility, but that seemed unlikely, as his Parisian “bobo” image would likely not go over well with alienated left voters outside the Île-de-France. Martine Aubry was obviously out of the question (as she and Hollande can’t stand one another and are absolutely not on the same page when it comes to economic policy). So Valls, who was intensely lobbying for the job, was the inevitable choice. And he’s probably the best one possible for Hollande right now, as he entirely shares Hollande’s social-libéralisme—including the pacte de responsabilité—and whose personal style—outspoken, borderline in-your-face—will guarantee that he’ll be politically front and center during his tenure at Matignon. He’ll be a much stronger media presence than Hollande, which won’t be a bad thing for the latter. If Valls’s poll numbers stay high, it will likely pull up Hollande’s as well; and if the calvaire of Matignon pulls him down, that will put paid to his presidential ambitions, which won’t disappoint Hollande. Serge Soudray, an editor at the journal ContreLigne, had a good commentary yesterday praising Hollande’s decision to name Valls (h/t Art Goldhammer). One thing’s for sure, which is that we’ll be hearing a lot more about Georges Clemenceau—Valls’s role model and inspiration, and probably the most interesting politician of the Third Republic—, and particularly with the approaching centennial of World War I.
On the EELV’s refusal to participate in Valls’s government: how pathetic and immature. The écolos, who came out of the municipal elections reinforced, are going to throw it away in a sterile ni-ni position of both opposing and supporting the government, whose success they nonetheless depend on. The EELV needs the PS more than vice-versa, particularly if it wants to have even a single deputy in the National Assembly. If the PS decides not to deal with the EELV in the next legislative elections and to run candidates in every circonscription, the écolos will likely end up with nothing. As for the gauche of the PS, which cannot stand Valls—the PS left considers him to be more on the right than the left—, he’s made sure to include them in a significant way in his government. Here’s the government that was named this morning (in protocol order):
Laurent Fabius — Foreign Affairs and International Development: Obviously. He’s been doing a fine job at the Quai d’Orsay. No reason whatever to move him somewhere else.
Ségolène Royal – Ecology/Sustainable Development/Energy: It was clear that she was going to be named to a high-level ministry, though not this one—and where she will have the rank of Ministre d’Etat—, which was supposed to go to the EELV. I’m impressed with her ability to rebound politically after humiliating defeats, e.g. her score in the 2011 PS primary and the 2012 legislative election fiasco in La Rochelle (the one in which Valérie Trierweiler famously tweeted). I thought Ségo was finished politically after the last one. But she’s relentless. In point of fact, she’s very smart and has matured considerably since the 2007 presidential race. And her commentary Sunday night on the Socialists’s defeat was particularly good (watch here).
Benoît Hamon – Education/Higher Education/Research: The chef de file of the PS left-wing gets this super ministry—replacing Vincent Peillon and Geneviève Fioraso, who got the boot—, and with a million fonctionnaires under his authority, who form the PS’s core constituency but are showing signs of disaffection with the party. If the PS loses the public school teachers, it’s done for. The syndicats des enseignants will be happy. As for the necessary reform of the educational system…
Christiane Taubira — Justice/Garde des Sceaux: I thought Delanoë would be named to this and with Taubira moved elsewhere (culture maybe), partly because her bilan as Garde des Sceaux is considered mixed. But she kept it. Will wait for the analyses of this one. Perhaps it’s a message to Mme Taubira’s many detractors on the hard right—who really hate her—to go suck on it.
Michel Sapin — Finance/Public Accounts: Hollande’s longtime ally, policy wonk, and entirely on board with the pacte de responsabilité. He’ll be the interlocutor with Brussels and other European finance ministers.
Arnaud Montebourg — Economy/”Productive Recovery”/Digital Technology: This may be called the Ministère de l’Economie etc but it is, in fact, a super ministry of industry (and housed at Bercy, where Montebourg will cohabit with Sapin). It was clear that Pierre Moscovici was going to be dumped but with Montebourg kept on and in a high-profile position, not only as he’s on the left-wing of the party—whose acquiescence Valls needs—but also because he’s come to be quite appreciated by the CEOs of French industry. He’s become the business-friendly champion of Made in France. His rhetoric has evolved over the past two years. He’s now more of an asset to Hollande than a pain. And he’s well-spoken and good on television.
Marisol Touraine – Social Affairs/Health: No change.
François Rebsamen — Labor/Employment/Social Dialogue: PS heavyweight, mayor of Dijon (reelected), close to Ségolène Royal. It’s been well-known for years that he covets the Ministry of Interior but he and Valls don’t like one another, so the latter nixed that. He’ll be the one to deal with the unions as the pacte de responsabilité is implemented. Bon courage.
Jean-Yves Le Drian — Defense: No change. Hollande—with whom he is close—and Valls wanted him at Interior but he said no. He likes Defense. And he’s been good in that position.
Bernard Cazeneuve – Interior: A second-tier party figure, fabusien, considered solid and serious. Replaced Jérôme Cahuzac at Budget en catastrophe last year. His appointment to the Place Beauvau looks to be a faute de mieux for Hollande and Valls—and he almost had to be appointed to some position in the government, as otherwise he’d probably try to get his National Assembly seat back in a by-election, which he—and the PS—would most certainly lose; and the PS cannot afford to lose any seats at this point. The interior minister is usually a high media-profile figure but he’s not likely to match Valls on that score.
Najat Vallaud-Belkacem – Women’s Rights/Urban Policy/Youth/Sports: Increased responsibilities for a star of the last government (though one wonders what these portfolios have to do with one another). She’s won’t be government spokeswoman anymore, though (which is okay, as that just’s a langue de bois position anyway).
Marylise Lebranchu — Decentralization/Reform of the State and the Civil Service: She goes back to Lionel Jospin’s gauche plurielle government, so has been around for a while. Is close to Martine Aubry.
Aurélie Filippetti – Culture/Communication: No change. Her record over the past two years has been mixed but it would have been tough to boot her from the government given that she won reelection in Metz (in 2nd place on the list) on Sunday.
Stéphane Le Foll — Agriculture/Food Industry/Forests + Government Spokesman: Same ministry but with enlarged attributes. Close to Hollande. He’ll be in the news a lot as the new govt spokesman.
Sylvia Pinel — Housing/”Equality of Territories”: The one PRG member of the government (Christiane Taubira merely being allied with the PRG). She was in the last one but with a low profile, i.e. one never heard about her. Her appointment here looks to be faute de mieux, as PRG chief Jean-Michel Baylet was expected to enter the government but has suddenly run into legal problems having to do with an affair involving calls for tenders from a decade ago.
George Pau-Langevin — Overseas (Departments and Territories): The obligatory minister from the DOM-TOM (she’s from Guadeloupe). And it had to be a woman, to maintain parity.
N.B. All but two of the members of the government—Royal and Rebsamen—were in the last one (and, pour mémoire, my reaction à chaud to that one is here). The Secretaries of State will be named in the coming days.
UPDATE: The Secretaries of State—which are second rank governmental posts—were announced today (April 9th):
Jean-Marie Le Guen — Relations with Parliament (under PM Manuel Valls): A former strausskahnien du premier plan. Political base is Paris’s 13th arrondissement (where I lived in the mid-late 1990s, so used to see him around; I heard him speak a couple of times in local settings and thought he was pretty smart).
Harlem Désir — European Affairs (under Laurent Fabius): Totally pathetic, unserious choice, manifestly made by Hollande and Valls to get him out of the Rue de Solférino (and where he hardly shined, c’est le moins que l’on puisse dire). He’s been a member of the European parliament since 1999, though has mainly worked there on development and globalization issues. And like many other French MEPs, he was slated for the European parliament by his party not out of a particular interest in European issues but because he failed to win a national mandate.
Fleur Pellerin — Foreign Trade/Tourism/French citizens abroad (under Fabius): New portfolios for her. She was appreciated in the last government. So good choice. FYI, she was adopted as a child from South Korea.
Annick Girardin — Development/Francophonie (under Fabius): PRG member from Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon.
Frédéric Cuvillier – Transportation/the Sea/Fisheries (under Ségolène Royal): He had this post in the last government. Is a former mayor/deputy from Boulogne-sur-Mer, so presumably knows his portfolios.
Geneviève Fioraso — Higher Education/Research (under Benoît Hamon): Her post in the last government. University professors and research scholars—some of them, at least—absolutely do not like her.
Christian Eckert — Budget (under Michel Sapin): Became an expert in the domain as deputy in the National Assembly.
Valérie Fourneyron — Commerce/Artisanat/Consumption/Economie sociale et solidaire (under Arnaud Montebourg): New portfolios for a Secy of State in the last government.
Axelle Lemaire — Digital Technology (under Montebourg): She’s lived in London for most of the past twelve years. Was an aide to Denis MacShane in the House of Commons.
Kader Arif — Veterans/”Memory” (under Jean-Yves Le Drian): Same post as in the last government. Is a fils de harki. I’m looking forward to finding out what his “memory” responsibilities will entail.
André Vallini — Territorial Reform (under Marylise Lebranchu): An important portfolio in view of PM Valls’s announced intention to halve the number of regions and merge the departmental and regional councils. This is a big deal. Vallini is close to Hollande and whose profession is the law. He is no lightweight. Nor is he a genius. As it happens, I devoted an entire blog post to him three years back, at the height of the DSK affair. What I had to say about him was not positive, i.e. I shredded the S.O.B.
Laurence Rossignol — Family/the Elderly/”Autonomy” (under Marisol Touraine): A feminist activist. Also known as one not to have her langue dans la poche, i.e. she gives people who irritate her a piece of her mind.
Ségolène Neuville — Handicapped Persons/”Struggle against exclusion” (under Touraine): A medical doctor by profession. Has only been in politics since 2012.
Thierry Braillard — Sports (under Najat Vallaud-Belkacem): In the PRG. The only Secy of State Mme Vallaud-Belkacem will have to help her out in her “broom wagon” ministry.
For the record, President Hollande has named his BFF Jean-Pierre Jouyet as Secretary-General of the Presidency of the Republic, i.e. chief-of-staff of the Elysée. Jouyet, a classmate of Hollande’s in ENA’s famous promotion Voltaire, was, pour mémoire, a Secy of State for European Affairs (2007-08) under President Sarkozy—one of Sarko’s prises de guerre from the left—, during which time Hollande was PS first secretary, i.e. head of the opposition party. Jouyet was considered by Socialists to be a sort of traitor. Mais ça c’est du passé…