France’s new prime minister, Manuel Valls, was appointed to his position last month by President François Hollande, as one of many attempts to revive that man’s flagging popularity, along with that of his Parti Socialiste (PS). A month into his tenure, things seem to be going well for a man whose leftist credentials are considered anything but pristine to his party’s most orthodox supporters, and who has, at the very least, stalled his party’s precipitous decline in public opinion.
Formerly France’s interior minister, Valls has never been the archetypal PS politician – there are rumors he once lobbied the party to remove the word socialist from its name. An émigré from Spain who became a French citizen at the age of 20, he practically invited scorn last fall by saying that “the Roma should eventually return to Romania and Bulgaria,” at the height of a public controversy over the fate of those people in France. But Valls also plays up his own status as a outsider to the French political system — traditionally dominated by officials who attended France’s most elite universities — by highlighting his studies at a public university in Paris.
The figure he attempts to cut is one of an independent, not afraid to take a principled stand to maintain (or restore, depending on who you’re asking) the Gallic grandeur of the de Gaulle years. One of his first public acts was to ask the French people to accept cuts in public benefits to reduce the deficit. (The request was met with boos from his audience.) His government plans to trim $69 billion from the federal budget by 2017, with $13.8 billion in cuts to the national heath care system, $26 billion to central government bureaucracy, $13.8 billion to local governments, and $15.4 billion more from unspecified sources.