PROFILE

Manuel Valls: François Hollande's Catalan-born minister

Just hours after the Socialist's victory, the Spaniard was promoted from press spokesman to interior minister

Newly appointed French Interior Minister Manuel Valls.
Newly appointed French Interior Minister Manuel Valls.JOHN MACDOUGALL / AFP

When François Hollande won the runoff race on May 7 defeating Nicolas Sarkozy for the French presidency, Manuel Valls was at his side serving as his press spokesman. And just hours after the Socialist's victory, Valls' name began surfacing as the possible candidate for interior minister.

On Wednesday, Valls was selected to that key position when Hollande and his new Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault began forming their new Cabinet.

As interior minister, the 49-year-old Valls will be expected to play an important role in helping the Spanish government to finally dismantle the Basque terrorist group ETA. What to do with the ETA prisoners will also no doubt be part of the strategic conversation when he meets with his Spanish counterpart, Jorge Fernández Díaz.

Not only is he fluent in Spanish but Valls also has a strong connection to Spain - he was born in Barcelona to a Catalan father and Swiss-Italian mother, Luisangela Galfetti. His father, the painter Xavier Valls, was a Republican who moved to Paris in 1949 and died in 2006. The younger Valls explained once that his parents wanted to have a child born in Catalonia so they decided that the mother should give birth in Barcelona while they were on vacation in the Catalan capital.

On his father's side, Valls is related to the famous Badalona-born composer Manuel Valls i Gorina, who wrote Catalonia's regional anthem. On his mother's side, his uncle is the famous Swiss architect Aurelio Galfetti, who helped renovate the Castelgrande castle in Bellinzona, Switzerland, considered a Unesco World Heritage site.

"He is a very active and committed man," his uncle told swissinfo.ch news website on Thursday. "In my opinion, I don't think he is the typical French politician."

Manuel Valls joined the Socialist Party at 17 and began his climb up with the help of party grandee Michel Rocard. He joined the staff of parliamentary deputy Robert Chapuis in 1983 and became head of the local Socialist group in the town of Bezons Argenteuil.

His first dabbling in the press came in 1997 when he handled media relations for Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. By 2001, he won his first elected position, becoming mayor of the working class town of Évry, just south of Paris, and was reelected for a second term in 2008. Valls has been a member of the French National Assembly since 2002.

In 1987, he married Nathalie Soulié, with whom he had four children. After divorcing his first wife, Valls married the attractive violinist Anne Gravoin some years back.

His candidacy in the party primaries last October showed that he belongs to the Socialists' more conservative wing. After coming in behind Ségolène Royal in the first round, Valls then endorsed Hollande in the second round.

In an article about the French Socialists last August, two months before the Socialist primaries, The Economist said that Valls has "a refreshingly modern view of the left." But the magazine lamented the fact that he was considered "too young to be a serious contender" for his party's nomination. "The day the paleo-Socialists of the Mitterrand generation allow such figures to emerge would be the dawn of a real revolution," The Economist pointed out.