French PM Valls faces down Socialist rebels as party prepares for stormy political season

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls escaped a major revolt at his Socialist Party’s summer school this weekend after a week that saw a cabinet reshuffle that purged the party left from his government.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls addresses party faithful at the Socialist summer school this weekend
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls addresses party faithful at the Socialist summer school this weekend Reuters/Stephane Mahe

Closing the annual get-together, which traditionally prepares for the recall of parliament and the resumption of political life after the summer holidays, Valls said he would not change course.

“I know we’re on the right track,” he told party members.

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But he also declared his “love” for the party, echoing his controversial speech to bosses’ union Medef, when he declared his love for business.

Supporters of the roughly 40 rebel MPs who are backing former economy minister Arnaud Montebourg’s criticism of austerity policies shouted their rallying cry “Long live the left!” as Valls started to speak.

But there was no major confrontation and most party activists appeared not to want a split in party ranks.

The only significant development was the presence of Justice Minister Christiane Taubira at a rebel meeting, although Valls has made no attempt to sanction her for what could be interpreted as a breach of the solidarity he demanded of ministers after the reshuffle.

“The Socialist pressure cooker has just cooled by several degrees,” an MP told RFI, speaking anonymously. “But until when?”

Socialist left-winger and MEP Emmanuel Maurel judged Valls’s speech “appropriate”.

The rebels are there to “remind [party leaders] of the programme on which we were elected in 2012”, he said, “a programme of recovery with justice”.

The minister in charge of relations with parliament defended Valls’s declaration of affection for the bosses on RTL radio on Monday.

“He has the courage to act, the courage to reform,” Jean-Marie Le Guen said.

Former housing minister Cécile Duflot, a Green Party member who quit the government at the beginning of the year, said that Valls is not coming up with the right answers.

He is not tackling the key questions, which are the situation in Europe and the crisis of the ecology, she told BFMTV.

The Socialist rebels face a hard choice soon when Valls will ask parliament for a vote of confidence.

Analysts believe they are unlikely to vote against since a no would lead to a new election.

With not only the Socialists but also the mainstream-right UMP divided, the far-right Front National could make significant gains in such a poll.

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