May 4, 2014 6:43 pm

Manuel Valls urges French voters to ‘fight the extremes’

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French Prime Minister Manuel Valls gives the closing speech of a meeting of Young Socialists©AFP

Manuel Valls, France’s new prime minister, has promised to lead a campaign against the far right in this month’s European parliamentary elections in the face of polls showing the National Front vying for victory.

“We must fight the extremes at the polls,” Mr Valls said. “We will not leave the field open to the extreme right – we must carry forward the European dream.”

Mr Valls’ rally cry at the weekend to the youth movement of the ruling Socialist party came as opinion polls have shown Marine Le Pen’s FN party running neck and neck for the lead with the mainstream centre right UMP, with the socialists lagging well behind in third place.

President François Hollande, suffering record low approval ratings below 20 per cent and blamed for a heavy socialist defeat in local elections in March, is seen as a burden on the so-far lacklustre party campaign for the European vote.

An opinion poll by BVA published on Sunday by contrast showed a 64 per cent approval rating for Mr Valls just over a month after he was appointed by Mr Hollande to revive the government’s fortunes and lead the president’s new pro-business economic reform programme.

Mr Valls is hoping to use his popularity to stem a further expected reverse for the socialists in the European election.

He referenced his own background as a Spanish-born, naturalised French citizen in his speech, as he habitually does, to stress his European credentials.

“I love Europe and I love France, the two are indissoluble,” he said. Rejecting the FN’s criticism that the EU has eroded French identity, he said: “There are our countries and there is Europe, these are our two identities. The two complement each other.”

Mr Valls nonetheless emphasised that the government sought a Europe that “regulates globalisation” and a “Europe that protects” – common themes in the French political mainstream that tends to be strongly critical of perceived excessive market liberalism in Brussels.

“People demand a more social Europe,” Mr Valls said.

Marine Le Pen is leading an uncompromising anti-EU message in her campaign, saying France has lost control of economic policy and its frontiers to the EU.

In an interview with the Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Sunday, she said the FN hoped to boost its number of European parliamentary members to up to 20 from the three it currently holds.

Repeating a pledge to form a group of like-minded populist parties from other countries in the European parliament, she said: “We want to block the development of the construction of Europe . . . to avoid further austerity and further loss of [sovereignty] for France.”

In the last European poll in 2009, the FN won just over 6 per cent of the vote. Opinion polls suggest it may raise that to more than 20 per cent this month following strong showings for Ms Le Pen in the 2012 presidential election, when she won 18 per cent, and the party in the recent local election.

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