The new French Prime Minister won a vote of confidence in the country’s national assembly following a speech that barely mentioned Europe. EurActiv France reports.
“Too much suffering,
Not enough hope,
This is the situation in France”
It was with these words that Manuel Valls opened his general policy speech to the French National Assembly (8 April), a declaration which emphasises the government's responsabilites. The parliament gave him Valls its confidence by 306 votes to 239 later in the evening. Eleven members of the French Socialist Party abstained from the poll.
A talented and passionate public speaker, Manuel Valls’s speech was in sharp contrast to those of his predecessor, Jean-Marc Ayrault. The speech focused on the current situation in France, emphasising social problems, sympathising with “pay sheets too low and tax forms too high”, and even mentioning the surge in burglaries over the past 5 years.
No concern for Europe
Manuel Valls has never been described as a europhile, and for good reason. He had initially campaigned for a No vote to the Lisbon Treaty in 2005. Tuesday (8 April), he hardly mentioned Europe, and did not say the word for the first 33 minutes of his speech.
The first mention of Europe was regarding the European Central Bank, which he criticised for employing a “monetary policy less expansionist than those of the American and Japanese authorities”.
Similar to his colleague Arnaud Montebourg, Manuel Valls referred to the overvaluation of the euro.
He then focused on economic growth, and pushed for a policy which would increase employment and decrease austerity.
“It is in the Eurozone that economic growth has been the least vigorous. I want to take this subject head on, as it will be central in the next European elections. It is Europe’s duty to give the people a concrete answer. Fundamentally, (the) EU must have greater economic growth achieved through investment and employment policies specifically tuned for young people.
Otherwise, all efforts to reduce public deficit will be in vain. I do not want this magnificent venture, which has united our continent, to lose its spark and, finally, its logic. I am very attached to the sturdiness of Franco-German relations.
I am still convinced that France needs Europe and that Europe needs France.”
There was only one pro-European opinion: Europe, mentioned a mere seven times in 47 minutes all in the space of one minute, was described as a “magnificent venture”.
Series of reforms
Manuel Valls then outlined reforms of a liberal nature, notably in taxation, by reducing charges on companies, especially those with low wages.
He also outlined new objectives for the ecological transition.
France will lower its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% before 2050 and the consumption of hydrocarbons by 30% before 2030.
Other measures will not be as well received in Brussels.
Indeed, France will revise the “rhythm” of reductions in public debt and the level of annual deficit. The target of 3% of GDP by 2015 seems out of France’s reach. The two candidates for the presidency of the European Commission, Juncker and Schulz, have already crossed swords on this subject.
According to Alain Rousset, President of the Associations for Regions of France, “Manuel Valls has confirmed that he wants to put in place a large scale decentralisation. Reducing the number of regions to increase efficacy, I say “I dare you Mr. Prime Minister”. Instead, let’s go further with this idea and get inspiration from other European democracies which depend on strong regions.”
Gilles Carrez, UMP Member of Parliament, claimed:
“Manuel Valls has chosen deficit and debt.
By announcing massive tax breaks for 2016 without compensating them with governmental spending cuts, the Prime Minister is choosing to increase the budgetary deficit and risks worsening France’s financial condition […]
The deliberate choice to increase the public deficit and debt will pose the biggest risks to France, which already has a persistent primary deficit and the largest annual financial needs of all Eurozone countries.”