By Thomas Adamson And Sylvie Corbet Associated Press
PARIS — President Francois Hollande named former Interior Minister Manuel Valls as France’s new prime minister Monday, just 24 hours after his Socialists suffered heavy losses in nationwide municipal elections.
Valls is consistently voted France’s most popular Socialist in opinion polls and is considered part of the right wing of the party. He replaces unpopular Jean-Marc Ayrault.
The 51-year-old has drawn comparisons with former conservative French President Nicolas Sarkozy and is also the most popular Socialist among France’s conservative right — he wants, for example, to rethink France’s 35-hour working week, a Socialist initiative.
In a prerecorded televised speech, Hollande said it was time for a France to enter a “new phase” and pledged Valls would lead a “combative government.”
He spelled out some key policy changes that included announcing new unspecified tax cuts and confirming a plan to slash 50-billion euros in government spending.
Valls is the Socialists’ hardliner on immigration and security and has held very controversial stances while serving as interior minister.
He allowed officials to ban shows by a comic considered anti-Semitic, Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala and once praised a policy of destroying illegal Roma camps and expelling their residents from the country.
Valls was born in Barcelona in 1962 and became naturalized as French 20 years later. He has four children from a first marriage that ended in divorce, and since 2010 has been married to his second wife, the distinguished violinist Anne Gravoin.
From 2001 to 2011 he was mayor of Evry, a town with 50,000 residents in the Parisian suburbs, and was in parallel a deputy for Essonne from 2002 to 2012.
His bid for the Socialist presidency failed in 2011, when he got less than six percent of the votes. But the next year Hollande gave him the high-profile post of communications director of his successful bid for the Elysee in 2012.
The Elysee said the appointment of the new ministers would not happen before Tuesday and they will be officially selected by Valls — with the tacit approval of the president. Ayrault tendered the government’s resignation late Monday afternoon.
Among names circulating as possibilities to enter the government, Hollande’s former companion and one-time Socialist presidential candidate Segolene Royal is being tipped to get a major ministry such as Education or Justice.
Hollande met his 60-year-old former companion — whom he never married — in 1978 during their studies at the Ecole Nationale d’Administration. Though they officially broke up in 2007, she is the mother of Hollande’s four children.