Ex-French PM Manuel Valls tipped to run for Barcelona mayor

France's combative former prime minister Manuel Valls is expected to announce Tuesday that he will run for mayor of Barcelona, in what would be an unprecedented bid for political power in another European country.

Ex-French PM Manuel Valls tipped to run for Barcelona mayor
Manuel Valles grew up in Paris with his Catalan father and Swiss-Italian mother. Photo: AFP

After weeks of suspense, the former Socialist premier is due to unveil “his decision” at 7:00 pm (1700 GMT) in the old centre of Barcelona, Spain's second biggest city where he was born 56 years ago.   

People close to Valls, who grew up in Paris with his Catalan father and Swiss-Italian mother, say he is all-but certain to stand as a candidate for the mayorship of the Catalan capital in municipal elections on May 26, 2019.   

On Friday, Valls tweeted an enigmatic photo of his feet on paving stones with the word “Barcelona…”. The email sent to invite media to Tuesday's briefing came from an address named “Valls 2019”.

Since failing to become the Socialist candidate for the 2017 French presidential election — then failing to join forces with winner Emmanuel Macron — Valls has regularly campaigned in Spain against Catalan separatists  who attempted to breakaway from Spain last October.   

If he decides to stand for mayor after a high-level political career in another country, it will be an unprecedented move in European history.

What are his chances?

Ada Colau is the current mayor. Photo: AFP

Beating Ada Colau, a former housing activist who is the current mayor of the 1.6-million strong city, will be a tough challenge.   

Valls will have the support of centre-right party Ciudadanos, which is spearheading opposition to the independence drive in Catalonia.   

He has recruited a former communications director of FC Barcelona, the giant football club he supports, for his campaign.   

The former right-hand man of Barcelona's ex-Socialist mayor Pasqual Maragall, still popular for his role in the city's successful Olympics bid in 1992, will also join his team.

But “his chances of becoming mayor are slim,” says Jordi Munoz, politics lecturer at the University of Barcelona.   

He says Valls has so far not managed to persuade the two other anti-independence parties – the Socialists and conservative Popular Party -to back his candidacy.   

And his firm stance on public order, as shown in France when he was interior minister, may not go down well in the traditionally leftwing city.

'Doesn't know the city'

The exiled pro-independence former president of the region Carles Puigdemont, was dismissive of Valls's possible candidacy.   

“He's a candidate who doesn't know Barcelona, who's not known in Barcelona,” Puigdemont told AFP in Brussels.

Once a popular figure in France, Valls has been strongly criticised for ditching the Socialist Party and unsuccessfully trying to run for parliament for Macron's centrist grouping.

He failed to join forces with the winner of the election, Emmanuel Macron, and to enter parliament in Macron's centrist grouping.”I don't know what he's coming here for. I reckon that as no one wants him in France, he's coming to Barcelona,” Laura Bozzo, a retiree, says in front of the city hall.

“He was born here but doesn't know the city,” she adds, wearing a yellow ribbon to show her support for jailed pro-independence politicians.   

Bank employee David Centellas doesn't agree.   

“He's a prestigious person, with international recognition and he can improve Barcelona's image.”

By Daniel Bosque / AFP



Why has the expansion of Barcelona airport prompted mass protests?

Around 10,000 people demonstrated against the expansion of the El Prat airport in Barcelona on Sunday.

Why has the expansion of Barcelona airport prompted mass protests?
People march during a demonstration against the expansion of the Barcelona-El Prat airport. Photo: Pau BARRENA / AFP

Several ecological and agricultural organisations, have demanded that the expansion be stopped due to the fact nearby wetlands and farms would have to be destroyed.

The demonstration took place on Calle Tarragona in the Catalan capital between Plaça d’Espanya and Plaça dels Països Catalans.

The protests still took place, even though last week, Spain suspended the €1.7 billion airport expansion project, citing differences with the Catalan government, after president Pere Aragonès said he wanted to avoid destroying La Ricarda lagoon, a natural reserve next to the airport. 

Environmentalists decided not to call off the march, in case plans for the airport expansion still went ahead.

READ ALSO: Six things you need to know about Barcelona airport’s €1.7 billion planned expansion

Political representatives from ERC, En Comú Podem and the CUP also attended, as well as the leader of Más País, Íñigo Errejón; the Deputy Mayor for Ecology of the Barcelona City Council, Janet Sanz, and the Mayor of El Prat de Llobregat, Lluís Mijoler.

People from neighbourhoods across the city marched towards Calle Tarragona and could be seen holding placards that read Nature yes, airport no and shouting slogans such as “More courgettes and fewer planes” and “Fighting for the climate, health, and life”. 

One of the largest groups of people were those from El Prat de Llobregat, the municipality which is home to the airport, who were led by tractors. 

People march during a demonstration against the expansion of Barcelona-El Prat airport. Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP

In addition to protesting against the expansion of the El Prat airport, people were also demonstrating against the Winter Olympic Games in the Pyrenees and extensions to airports in Mallorca and Madrid. 

A representative of Zeroport, Sara Mingorría said “We are here to defend not only La Ricarda, but the entire Delta”. 

The philosopher Marina Garcés also argued that the expansion of the airport would mean “more borders, more mass tourism, more control and more precarious jobs.” 

The leader of the commons in the Catalan parliament, Jéssica Albiach, who also attended the protest, asked the PSOE for “coherence”: “You cannot be passing a law against climate change and, at the same time, defend the interests of Aena [the airport operations company]”, she said. 

She also urged the leader of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès, to “definitely say no. 

If the airport expansion in Barcelona goes ahead, environmentalists say that CO2 emissions would rise by a minimum of 33 percent. These levels would surpass the limits set by the Catalan government’s climate targets.