Francois Hollande (Photo: Reuters)
France's new prime minister, the popular and pugnacious Manuel Valls, took office Tuesday and is diving straight into a huge and thankless challenge: bringing back jobs, investors and hope to Europe's second-biggest economy.
Valls, 51, took over as President Francois Hollande's prime minister from Jean-Marc Ayrault after their Socialist Party took a drubbing in weekend municipal elections.
Spanish-born Valls is a telegenic figure with presidential ambitions seen as the most right-leaning politician in the Socialist leadership. As interior minister, he angered leftists by leading a tough and unapologetic line against crime, illegal immigrants and Roma, or Gypsies.
In a handover ceremony, Valls pledged to "keep working in the interest of the recovery of our country, our economy, our industry." Some observers say his self-assuredness offers a good counterpoint for the wishy-washy image often affixed to his deeply unpopular boss, Hollande.
Valls is expected to name a new government on Wednesday, with changes particularly expected at the Finance Ministry.
To preserve a broad spectrum of views in the government, Valls could pluck from the Socialist Party's left wing — such as by re-selecting Arnaud Montebourg, who is currently minister for industrial renewal.
Perhaps the most dazzling entry into the new ministerial lineup would be Segolene Royal — with whom Hollande has four children. She was the Socialists' previous presidential candidate, losing to Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007.
Among the more popular ministers in the outgoing government, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was expected to keep that post.
Valls was also negotiating Tuesday with leaders of the Green party — a traditional ally of the Socialists — which has not decided whether to remain in the governing coalition. Two Green party ministers have already announced they wouldn't be part of the Valls government.