epa05661873 (FILE) A file picture dated 11 August 2016 shows French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve arriving for the Defense Council with French President Francois Hollande in Paris, France. Cazeneuve was named the new Prime Minister of France on 06 December 2016, after Manuel Valls announced his resignation as Prime Minister to run in the Socialist Party's primaries for French presidential elections on 23 April and 07 May 2017.  EPA/ETIENNE LAURENT
© EPA

Bernard Cazeneuve has been appointed as France’s prime minister after Manuel Valls resigned, triggering a government reshuffle less than five months before presidential elections.

Mr Cazeneuve, who was interior minister, was replaced by Bruno Le Roux, an MP who headed the Socialist group in the lower house, the Elysée Palace said in a statement on Tuesday morning.

The appointments follow Mr Valls’ decision to compete for the centre-left presidential nomination in a primary contest in January. The outgoing premier, 54, threw his hat in the ring on Monday evening, days after François Hollande’s shock announcement that he would rule himself out of the contest — the first time a Fifth Republic president has not sought a second term in office.

As interior minister since 2014, Mr Cazeneuve, 53, a Hollande loyalist, has had a key role in confronting an unprecedented wave of Islamist terror attacks on French soil. Before that he was budget minister, replacing Jerome Cahuzac, who was forced to step down after a tax fraud scandal in 2013.

Mr Le Roux, 51, who never held a ministerial role, will take on the immediate mission of trying to ensure France’s security during the holiday season amid the heightened threat from homegrown jihadism.

Mr Valls’ decision to leave the government has started a contest for the leadership of the Socialist party, which is facing a likely electoral rout in the two-round presidential election in April and May as well as in parliamentary polls in June.

The party is mired in divisions and is not expected to have a candidate with enough support to qualify for the second round of the presidential election, when the two leading first-round rivals face each other in a run-off.

Mr Valls, who has developed a pro-business economic platform and adopted a tough stance on immigration, is expected to face as many as seven rivals in primary elections, including Arnaud Montebourg, a party leftwinger who left the government in a reshuffle in 2014 after disagreeing with the prime minister’s supply-side shift.

Denied a majority in parliament, Mr Valls has been forced to use decrees by Mr Hollande to pass key reforms, including a bill that aimed to make the job market more flexible. The reforms infuriated a group of leftwing MPs, whom Mr Le Roux struggled to keep in line.

The government reshuffle adds to the sense of upheaval in the French political mainstream, which has been unable to contain an electorally resurgent far-right National Front. Marine Le Pen, its leader, is predicted by all opinion polls to have enough support to qualify for the second round of the presidential election.

Declaring his candidacy on Monday evening, Mr Valls told supporters that the extreme right was “standing at the doorstep of power. Let’s push it back.”

Get alerts on French politics when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Follow the topics in this article