PARIS (AP) — Bernard Cazeneuve became France's new prime minister on Tuesday, shifting over from his job as interior minister after Manuel Valls stepped down as prime minister to focus on running for the presidency.
Valls resigned a day after announcing his candidacy in the wake of French President Francois Hollande's decision not to run for a second term.
"I was a happy prime minister" despite challenges that included terror attacks, Valls said in a ceremony transferring power. "I leave in calm ... (because Cazeneuve) is a man of state."
"You are a friend, a brother," he added.
Both men made clear that coping with bloody terror attacks and facing down threats bonded them as they worked hand-in-hand. Cazeneuve also praised the "friendship" between himself and Valls.
Valls hopes to unite Socialists and give the left a chance to stay at the Elysee Palace in France's two-round presidential election in April and May. Current opinion polls, however, suggest that the second round could pit Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front, against conservative Francois Fillon.
The 53-year-old Cazeneuve is a close ally of Hollande and became a popular figure as the champion of measures tackling extremism.
Cazeneuve, appointed interior minister in 2014, faced a series of attacks in France that claimed more than 200 lives since January 2015. In total, he championed three counterterrorism laws and one intelligence law. He has also been in charge of implementing France's state of emergency following the Paris attacks that killed 130 people in November 2015.
Cazeneuve said his three-fold goal as prime minister will be "to protect, progress, prepare the future." He acknowledged that his mandate will be short, but said "each day is useful. Each day counts."
Bruno Le Roux, the head of the Socialist group in Parliament's lower house, was appointed as France's new interior minister.
Valls is the top contender in the primary next month for Socialist candidates and their allies but he will face tough competition from former Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg and former Education Minister Benoit Hamon, who both back more left-leaning policies.
Valls is known for his outspoken, authoritarian style and his tough views on immigration and security. He has been harshly criticized by other party members after championing tough labor reforms and endorsing a controversial ban last summer on the Islamic "burkini" swimsuit.
Samuel Petrequin contributed to this report.