French New Prime Minister Cazeneuve races against time

Less than five months before the first round of presidential elections, France’s new government has desperate little time to accomplish any policy goals. But the new prime minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, could still succeed in leaving his mark.

Delivering his debut speech as prime minister to France’s National Assembly on Tuesday, Cazeneuve said he would make “every day count” during the short mandate that will precede the second round of presidential elections on May 7, 2017.

In fact, the country’s legislative calendar will end as early as February, leaving Cazeneuve even less time to craft any new policies.

Cazeneuve was appointed prime minister by President François Hollande, a Socialist, on December 6 as Manuel Valls stepped down from the post to launch a presidential bid.

His first significant action as prime minister has been to ask lawmakers to extend a state of emergency that has been in place since November last year, following attacks by Islamist militants in Paris that killed 130 people.

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During his address, the newly appointed PM said he would also take “new measures to ensure patients’ access to medical care in the countryside,” taking steps to incite doctors and nurses to work in rural areas.

Taking Fillon to task

His speech nevertheless focused on the policies that were launched under his predecessor Valls, signaling Cazeneuve’s role will essentially be safeguarding past initiatives, rather than launching his own.

Raising his voice over jeers from opposition lawmakers, Cazeneuve praised government measures to balance France’s budget, create more jobs in hospitals and schools, and widen welfare programmes.

Adopting a combative tone, he took MP François Fillon to task for pledges to massively cut civil servant jobs and deregulate the economy if he becomes France’s president next year.

While pledging to defend France’s social system from a conservative counteroffensive, Cazeneuve also said he would continue the country’s military and diplomatic efforts with respect to Syria and keep French citizens at home safe from terrorist attacks.

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MP Alexis Bachelay said it was important not to overlook those tasks, which have also been entrusted to Cazeneuve as other political figures concentrate on personal campaigns. “We must remain vigilant to the terrorist threat, and be ready to react in the case of new attacks,” Bachelay told FRANCE 24 on Wednesday.

Since last year’s Paris attacks, up to 10,000 police and soldiers have at times been deployed to protect sensitive sites such as synagogues, airports and stations.

On Thursday, the government said it will put more police and soldiers on the streets to protect against terror attacks during Christmas and New Year festivities.

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Bring Socialists together

While maintaining an important role in the limited time he has been given in office, Cazeneuve may also prove a wise choice for Socialists trying to avert election disaster.

Hollande and Valls are struggling with historically low approval ratings, with market-friendly policies turning off left-leaning voters and sowing division within the Socialist Party.

Many observers in and outside the party think Cazeneuve could help unify the fractured party and inspire support among constituents.

“We’re going to let the government do its work,” Bachelay, who has often been critical of Hollande and Valls, said. “Cazeneuve represents the unity we were waiting for. I think he can bring the party together. At least that’s what he wants to do.”