Mitterrand signals 'new deal', but tries to reassure the right
The formation of a moderate Socialist and center-left government reflects not just French President Francois Mitterrand's hopes for a "new deal" in France. It is also a gesture toward mollifying convervative fears of radical social and economic changes.
In view of the forthcoming June legislative elections, the object of the new 31-minister Cabinet is to protect and reassure the country. "Continuity in the running of the economy is an essential element," noted Jacques Delors, France's new finance minister, whose competence is highly respected by both the left and the right. "Ninety-degree turns are certainly not to be recommended."
Pointedly excluding any Communists, the new government is composed predominantly of moderate Socialists, but also incorporates several center-leftists from the smaller parties such as maverick neo-Gaullist Michel Jobert, appointed minister of external commerce, and radical left Michel Crepeau , minister of environment.
Requiring a working majority in France's next Parliament, which was dissolved last Friday, the Cabinet is obviously designed to provide Mitterrand with room for maneuver and to appeal to centrist politicians for support.
The most pressing problem of Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy's new government is how to deal with the falling franc, now at 5.59 per dollar, its lowest in 12 years. Under constant pressure from high international interest rates, a strong dollar, and rumors of an impending devaluation since the Mitterrand election, the franc could be forced to leave the European currency system if it fails to hold its own level within the permitted margin.
One of Mauroy's first acts on entering the Hotel Matignon was to announce several antispeculation measures, including foreign exchange restrictions aimed at "protecting our currency from temporary difficulties." Stopping over in Paris on his return trip Sunday from Washington, West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt met with Mitterrand in order to discuss Franco-German cooperation and ways of helping France ease out of its present crisis.
Finance Minister Delors said that his initial task would be to "calm spirits and put an end to false rumors." Change, he added, would be brought about in a carefully thought out and concerted manner. Emphasizing that social progress and economic prosperity are closely entwined, the new finance minister, one of the government's most moderate Socialists, pointed out that France is not the only country to be suffering from economic problems.
Indicative of Mitterrand's "new deal" proposals are his plans to decentralize government and seek a greater balance of powers between the presidency and Parliament. Since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958, the French political system has been geared toward a strong president with Parliament practically reduced to a rubber-stamp body.
Both Georges Pompidou and Valery Giscard d'Estaing are considered responsible for having isolated the presidency even more from parliament. This has also been felt in a reduction of decisionmaking in certain ministries such as the Quai d'Orsay.
With the appointment of Claude Cheysson as foreign minister, Quai officials now expect to regain their previous importance. "Under Giscard, all decisions were made in the Elysee Palace," noted one official.