Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Valls Opening Gambits

Manuel Valls laid his plans before the AN today. They include a number of well-targeted stimulative measures, including elimination of social contributions on minimum-wage workers, elimination of the (Sarkozy-imposed) surtax on corporate taxes, and a reduction of family contributions. But of course the change of tone was perhaps the most salient sign that a new man is in charge. There is a forcefulness about Valls that Ayrault simply lacked. How well this change of style will translate into effective action remains to be seen, but my guess is that many people will be pleased by Valls's more hands-on approach.

Valls of course already has many vociferous detractors, including several commenters on this blog. 100 Socialist deputies have called for a new "contract with the majority." Yesterday I discussed Claude Bartolone's lukewarm reception. Much of the reaction is predictable and overblown. Valls will not "destroy the Left." His proposals might well do some good, and even a small uptick in the growth rate, which is likely, will tamp down some of the wilder adverse commentary.

Valls may prefer to portray himself as a French Blairite, but his first moves toward a more stimulative stance are positive. Now if he can just hold off the calls from Brussels to finance the tax and contribution cuts even before their effects are felt, he will have gotten somewhere. In any case, the frondeurs among the deputies have no choice but to give him time. In his speech he invoked the memory of Mendès France but avoided mentioning his real mentor, Michel Rocard. Like Rocard, Valls is a realist. Hence he won't please the ideologues in the party, but he will respond pragmatically to the situation he faces. Unlike Rocard, he expresses himself simply and directly and is considerably more popular than the president under whom he serves. He may well replace Hollande in the public mind as the man in charge. His success, if it comes, will therefore redound to his benefit and not the president's.