Former French prime minister Manuel Valls on Thursday defended a controversial labour reform passed under his tenure as he squared off against other left-wing presidential hopefuls in a televised debate.
The Seven candidates vying for France’s left-wing presidential nomination presented the main points of their campaigns as they faced off in the first of four primary debates.
Former government ministers Arnaud Montebourg and Benoit Hamon said they would repeal the law allowing French companies to fire workers more easily, forcing Valls – the touted frontrunner in the race – into a defensive stand.
“[The law] was not debated by the unions and it was not debated by the parliament, because it was forced through,” Montebourg said, taking aim at Valls for bypassing lawmakers in July. “It’s impossible to pass a law for 29 million workers without consulting with their representatives in the unions or in parliament.”
“Repeal what exactly, the right for workers to negotiate in their companies?” Valls heatedly shot back, insisting that several provisions, including the so-called “right to disconnect”, remained popular measures.
The first round of France’s left-wing primary will be held on January 22, with the two candidates claiming the most votes advancing to a run-off poll on January 29.
The debate also included former education minister Vincent Peillon and three candidates from smaller parties allied to the ruling Socialists in parliament: François de Rugy, Jean-Luc Bennahmias and Sylvia Pinel, who is the only woman in the primary race.
The one thing all candidates seemed to agree on was with their attacks on the left, particularly the policies of François Fillon. Questioning his overtures to Russian President Vladimir Putin, François de Rugy said that one of the biggest threats facing France was the “expansionist policy of Vladimir Putin”, warning that both Fillon and far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen “want an alliance with Putin, in particular in Syria to support [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad.”