Valls Running for French President Sees Le Pen on Brink of Power

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced that he’s running for president, warning France’s divided left that it risks letting anti-European candidate Marine Le Pen into office.

“It’s time for me to take the next step in my commitment,” Valls said Monday evening in the Paris suburb of Evry, where he was mayor for more than a decade. “My bid is a bid for reconciliation. This is my first act for unity.”

Valls will resign as prime minister on Tuesday to prepare for the Socialists’ two-round primary on Jan. 22 and Jan. 29, he said. Hollande will quickly name a successor, government spokesman Stephane Le Foll said earlier Monday.

A bid by Valls became almost certain last week after Hollande said he wouldn’t seek re-election because divisions on the left risk handing the presidency to extremist parties. Le Pen and Francois Fillon, a Republican standard bearer for harsh economic medicine, have established themselves as front-runners in next April’s first round while polls show candidates on the left are set for elimination.

“I don’t want France to live again the trauma it had in 2002 with the far-right in the second round of a presidential election,” Valls said. “Today it’s at the doors of power. Its platform would ruin the small people, the retirees, the blue-collar workers. It would expel us from Europe, it would eject us from history.”

Losing Prime Ministers

Hollande’s approval rating jumped 13 percentage points in one month to 29 percent since he abandoned his hopes of a second term, according to an Ifop-Fiducial survey for Paris Match magazine. Valls’ approval rating meanwhile dropped 1 point.

While Hollande is the first head of state not to seek re-election, no sitting prime minister has won a presidential election. Jacques Chirac in 1988, Edouard Balladur in 1995, and Lionel Jospin in 2002 all failed. Valls won just 5 percent support when he ran in the Socialist primary in 2011.

Two former members of Valls’s government who quit over policy disagreements -- Arnaud Montebourg and Benoit Hamon -- are also running in the primary, while former economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, will be fighting for moderate voters as an independent. Communist-backed Jean-Luc Melenchon is running his own independent campaign to the left of mainstream Socialists.

“Valls’ biggest handicap is that he will have to defend Hollande’s record, but he can finesse this by denouncing Hollande’s hesitations and saying that he’ll do what needs to be done with greater vigor and less head-scratching,” Art Goldhammer, a researcher affiliated with Harvard University’s Center for European Studies, said on his blog. “One challenge will be to fend off Montebourg on his left within the primary and Macron on his right outside.”