Valls’ Widespread Popularity with Public Belies Criticism from Peers

Interior Minister Manuel Valls. Photo: Flickr.com/vondapol

Of an attractive sort, at least to some? Interior Minister Manuel Valls.
Photo: Flickr.com/vondapol

Manuel Valls, Minister of the Interior and one of France’s leading Parti socialiste (PS) politicians, is back in the domestic headlines this past week, although for reasons other than the purely political. Still in the public eye for polemical comments made over Roma settlements in late September, Valls has continued grab media attention by way of aggressive attacks on his party’s opposition, and most recently – and bizarrely – through his sex appeal.

According to a poll taken by the French Institute of Public Opinion (IFOP), 20 per cent of women aged 20 to 40 would have a “torrid affair” with the minister, rating him higher than many other members of the French government.

When asked about the poll by Spanish newspaper ABC, Valls’ wife, Anne Gravoin, replied, “Manuel absolutely deserves it… He’s a very lovable man.”

As topical as the IFOP poll may be, it betrays the French people’s fascination with their Spanish-born Interior Minister. Consistently rated higher than his contemporary ministers in public opinion polls, Valls is quickly becoming the new face of the PS, currently the party in power in government. In fact, recent polling by French marketing research group BVA showed that Valls enjoys a 71 per cent approval rating, compared to the 25 per cent approval for French President François Hollande.

Yet even if Manuel Valls has found approval and popularity with the French, his recent positions have earned him criticism from his colleagues, even those on the political left.

Much of this backlash came as a result of comments Valls made regarding France’s immigrant Roma population on September 24. In his statement, Minister Valls questioned the desire and ability of the Roma people to integrate into French society, stating, “It’s illusory to think that we can resolve the problem of the Roma population solely via insertion. There is no other solution than dismantling [the Roma] camps progressively and deporting them to the border.”

This stance drew criticism from within his party and without, with some of the most virulent opposition coming from the Minister of Housing, Cécile Duflot, who accused Valls of creating a “constant stigmatism” of the Roma that is “unacceptable.” In an effort to mitigate the feud within the party, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault called a press conference including several politicians, and called on everyone to maintain composure by “showing respect to all citizens.”

Ayrault was moved to action in order to mitigate the appearance of a public rift within the PS over the Roma, so as maintain the party’s chances in the coming 2014 municipal elections.

Despite the political backlash he has received for his comments, Valls seems to continue to enjoy public support, with 77 per cent of people in a BVA poll agreeing with the Interior Minister’s statements. This public support also crossed party lines, with 98 per cent of right-leaning participants and 84 per cent of left-leaning participants agreeing that the Roma population is poorly integrated. Such apparent bilateral support, even over an issue for which he has received criticism at the political level, reflects Valls’ rising popularity on both sides of the spectrum.

Valls hopes to channel this widespread appeal in traveling the country and shoring up support for his party in the face of growing power of the Front national (FN), an opposing political party on the right. An IFOP poll taken on Wednesday, October 9 showed support for the FN soaring above the two major political parties in France – the leftist PS and center-right UMP – for the first time.

Given the diminished popularity of socialist President François Hollande, it may fall to Valls to uphold the image of the PS in the coming municipal elections and in the eventual 2017 presidential run. And for Valls, the threat is not just to France– he fears the ability of the FN to gain traction across Europe in these days of fiscal conservatism, warning the press and public that they “could be the leading political party in (next May’s) European elections.”

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  1. […] Manuel Valls, Minister of the Interior and one of France’s leading Parti socialiste (PS) politicians, is back in the domestic headlines this past week, although for reasons other than the purely political. Still in the public eye for polemical comments made over Roma settlements in late September, Valls has continued grab media attention by way of aggressive attacks on his party’s opposition, and most recently – and bizarrely – through his sex appeal. According to a poll taken by IFOP, 20 per cent of women aged 20 to 40 would have a “torrid… […]

  2. […] deportation of Leonarda Dibrani, a 15 years old who went to school in France, with a family back to Kosovo. What triggered the controversy was mainly the conditions of her expulsion: the police seized her […]

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