'Co-Habitation' Revisited

April 02, 1993

The new center-right government of France is likely to be as prickly in international economic affairs as past French governments, only more so. It will probably be more adamant in protection of inefficient French farmers, because of rightist roots in the countryside. It will be more troublesome to Washington on trade, less tolerant of a rational European Community farm policy, more demanding of Germany in European monetary affairs.

Once again, as a result of the parliamentary election concluded Sunday, France will experience the "co-habitation" of a Socialist president and conservative cabinet. But this will not proceed as smoothly as in 1986-1988, when President Francois Mitterrand's claim of primacy over foreign, defense and European policy went unchallenged.

The conservative parties, holding 484 of the 577 seats in the National Assembly, are unlikely to accede to Mr. Mitterrand's pretensions this time. They grant he need not resign before his term ends in 1995, but they expect to make policy. Electoral maneuvering will haunt this government.

Mr. Mitterrand, a Socialist, appointed Edouard Balladur, a Gaullist, to be prime minister. It was not his own choice but Jacques Chirac's. Mr. Chirac's party won 34 more seats than its partner, led by former President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, and thus will dominate this government.

As leader of the Rally for the Republic and mayor of Paris, Mr. Chirac is a commanding presence, something of a "shadow president," an office not found in the 1958 constitution. In this regard, Mr. Chirac must come to terms not with Mr. Mitterrand so much as with Mr. Giscard d'Estaing, his partner, leader of the Union for French Democracy and leading rival for the presidency in 1995.

In domestic affairs, France will divest state industry more rapidly. And in foreign affairs, it will not change much from current posture, maintaining a nuclear force, semi-independent within NATO and shamelessly interventionist when political breakdown threatens French investments in former colonies.

Mr. Mitterrand's greatest achievement was forging a close partnership with Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany in running Europe, across the ideological as well as linguistic divide. The new government, though closer to Mr. Kohl's conservatism, is likely to fray this relationship in the name of nationalism and French farmers. Mr. Mitterrand, this time around, can do little to stop it. He was rejected too decisively in the polls for that.

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