France’s ‘ministerial Swiss army knife’ replaces Valls as PM

Short-term stand-in Bernard Cazeneuve managed aftermath of 2015-16 terror attacks

Newly appointed French prime minister Bernard Cazeneuve: This is the second time that he  has followed Valls, having replaced him at the interior ministry when Valls became prime minister in  2014 . Photograph: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty

Newly appointed French prime minister Bernard Cazeneuve: This is the second time that he has followed Valls, having replaced him at the interior ministry when Valls became prime minister in 2014 . Photograph: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty

 

One of the chief virtues of Bernard Cazeneuve, who was appointed by French president François Hollande to succeed Manuel Valls as prime minister on Tuesday, is to have remained neutral in the muted battle that culminated with Valls’s declaration of his candidacy for the presidency on Monday.

This is the second time that Cazeneuve has followed Valls, having replaced him at the interior ministry when Valls became prime minister in April 2014. With only five months left in Hollande’s term, Cazeneuve will be the shortest serving head of government in the Fifth Republic’s history.

Cazeneuve’s first task will be to prolong the state of emergency, for the fifth time since it was declared by Hollande following the jihadist attacks that killed 130 people in Paris and St Denis on November 13th, 2015.

By law, the state of emergency must be renewed within 15 days of a change of government. It will be voted through in the National Assembly on December 21st and by the Senate in January.

Parliament will be suspended from February 24th for the presidential campaign and Cazeneuve is expected to manage day-to-day government administration only.

But the risk of terrorist attacks remains high. Cazeneuve is regarded as a man for difficult missions, “a ministerial Swiss army knife,” in the words of Le Monde. As France’s top cop, he managed the aftermath of attacks that claimed 238 lives in 2015-16.

Despite criticism of failings in the surveillance of Amedy Coulibaly and the Kouachi brothers (the perpetrators of the January 2015 atrocities), poor security on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice on Bastille Day, and questionable human rights practices, Cazeneuve is widely considered to have done a good job.

Impeccably efficient

Cazeneuve’s style could hardly be more different from Valls, who is known as “the matador.” Cazeneuve is unassuming, soft spoken and impeccably efficient. A former mayor of Cherbourg and a spokesman for Hollande’s 2012 campaign, he was tasked as European affairs minister with winning French acceptance of the unpopular European stability mechanism treaty.

Cazeneuve then replaced the former budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac, who had been caught evading taxes.

France’s new prime minister has said he wants to return to his law practice when Hollande leaves office. If by some miracle Valls is elected, Cazeneuve could be asked to stay on as prime minister.

Bruno Le Roux, the former president of the socialist group in the National Assembly, who is also close to Hollande, has replaced Cazeneuve at the ministry of the interior.

Hollande loyalists believe Valls forced Hollande to announce he would not seek re-election, by threatening to stand against him in next month’s Socialist primary. They have launched an anti-Valls campaign on Twitter, under the hashtag TSV, meaning “Tout sauf Valls” (“anyone but Valls”) – an echo of the movement against former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

The anger of Hollande supporters against Valls is ironic, since the once combative Valls showed himself to be a lamb, “the perfect double of Hollande” in his speech on Monday evening, as noted by Françoise Fressoz of Le Monde.