Manuel Valls portrayed as Robocop in 2014 when he was France’s combative Minister of Interior


by Rose Maramba

Barcelona, Tuesday, 25 September: With a broad French accent, former Prime Minister of France Manuel Valls announced his candidacy for Mayor of Barcelona in Spanish and Catalan. For some, it was a relief to have him tell he was a centrist. To the left-leaning others, it was a good thing he declined to be the candidate of Ciutadans, a self-avowed centrist party perceived increasingly by a good part of the electorate as just a store brand of the conservative Partido Popular. The rest felt let down for one reason or another, or are dismissive of Valls as a failed politician in France who’s seeking to resuscitate his political career in Barcelona.

The announcement, though not a surprise at all, was nothing short of unprecedented – a major politician in one EU country seeking a crucial political position in another. Already in April Valls said he was thinking of running for mayor in Barcelona. And now, “After a period of serious reflection, I have taken the following decision: I want to be the next mayor of Barcelona,” he declared.

Ayuntamiento de Barcelona

Rather than focus on the crisis of Catalonia’s secessionism, Valls says he’ll shun populism and demagoguery in campaigning for the municipal elections on 26 May 2019. Instead, he will tackle “poverty, unemployment, racism and social injustice”.

Valls’ speech on Tuesday seems to reveal his awareness of the need to concentrate on local issues rather than playing on the sentiments of those against the independence of Catalonia from Spain. This could well suggest the remarkable cunning of someone who has an extensive experience in (French) politics. In all likelihood, he knows Barcelona is the secessionists’ Achilles heel, the frustrating battleground for Catalonia’s independence movement where victory is elusive.  The failure to bag the capital and biggest city of Catalonia has made it impossible for the secessionists to assert that they represent the majority of Catalans. Not when more than half the city’s inhabitants were either born outside Catalonia and retain strong links with their birthplaces elsewhere in Spain or are foreign immigrants and a Catalan republic is the least of their concerns.

Valls is quite cognizant of the situation. He said, “Secessionism has tried to project the city as the capital of an imaginary republic, but that’s not what Barcelona is.”

Ada Colau’s investiture in 2015

It won’t be a cakewalk for Valls, though. Quite apart from being so utterly new on the scene, he is up against political heavy-weights. There’s the incumbent Mayor Ada Colau. Generally, the national press ignores her but her approval ratings are the highest a mayor has ever enjoyed in the history of Barcelona. She keeps a calculated ambivalence about the Catalan secessionism and just keeps on cultivating an image of down-home social activism. And she could yet be reelected!

The third major mayoral candidate is Ernest Maragall, brother of the popular former mayor of Barcelona Pasqual Maragall (1982 – 1997) who was pivotal to the success of Barcelona’s Olympic bid in 1992. Ernest is the equivalent of foreign minister in the Catalan regional government acting up like an independent nation’s that runs a string of embassies abroad. He belongs to the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia).

Valls could attract many conservative voters looking for a moderate candidate to represent them. He could also garner votes from the left because he was once a Socialist –  albeit a controversial one – in France. Tweeted Victor Gómez Frías @vgomezfrias 25 sept: As a socialist I celebrate the generosity and courage of Manuel Valls in putting his great experience and prestige at the service of Barcelona.

Benoit Hamon, left of center, to whom Valls lost the PS presidential primary in 2017. Benoit meets his supporters at a meeting during the primaries

Valls was a Socialist until he offered himself as prime minister for Emmanuel Macron, founder of the socially and ideologically liberal En Marche! “political club” and President of France. Or at least a member of the Parti Socialiste (PS). Like Macron really who was with PS between 2006 and 2009. Which fact didn’t stop Macron from rebuffing him.

He could most likely win over the liberals, especially the kind that makes a natural constituency for Ciutadans.

The son of Catalan father and Swiss-national mother, the 56 year old Valls was born in Barcelona and bred in France. He is both French and Spanish. He belonged to the Socialist Party’s right wing which is akin to the German Social Democratic Party. He liked to think of himself as “Blairiste” and “Clintonien”.

Hôtel Matignon, official residence of the Prime Minister of France

What was Valls in France, politically?

> Minister of Interior: 2012 – 2014 (under President François Hollande)
> Prime Minister: 2014 – 2016 (under Hollande)
> Deputy-Mayor of Argenteuil: 1989–1998
> Municipal councilor of Évry: Since 2001
> Mayor of Évry: 2001–2012
> Regional councilor of Île-de-France: 1986–2002
> Vice-president of the Regional Council of Île-de-France: 1998–2002
> Member of the National Assembly (Député de l’Essonne): 2002–present

Valls: he chooses to go it alone than be shackled to Ciutadans

> The Socialist primaries for the candidacy to the President of France in the 2017 presidential election; lost to Benoit Hamon, former PS Minister of Education
> Aspiration for prime minister in Macron’s government

In the race for mayor of Barcelona, he was supposed to be Ciutadans’ candidate. But right now, he’ll be the independent candidate of as yet to be put together “trasversal” party.

Will Barcelona become the graveyard of Valls’ long political career? Or will he be elected Mayor and turn his sagging political fortunes around?





Featured image/Thierry Ehrmann, CC BY2.0
Ayuntamiento de Barcelona/Serge Melki, CC BY2.0
Ada Colau investiture/Barcelona En Comú, CC BY-SA2.0
Benoit Hamon/Marion Germa, CC BY-SA4.0
Hôtel Matignon/Guilhem Vellut, CC BY2.0
Valls/Kommunikation BMV-Lorenz Böck, CC BY-SA3.0


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