It's not going to be Francois-Helmut
A Francois-Helmut relationship has not been established, nor is it likely to be; but the Bonn-Paris axis appears to be intact, and there is full agreement on the burning topic of nuclear missiles in Western Europe.Skip to next paragraph
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President Francois Mitterrand of France, who returned home July 13 after a brief visit to Bonn with eight members of his Cabinet, gave a firm assurance that close cooperation with West Germany would remain a cornerstone of French policy.
The recent change in France, he said, would not affect certain fundamental principles underlying the country's foreign affairs. German-French friendship, fostered by successive governments on both sides for more than 30 years, was one of these immutable elements.
This was music to the ears of West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who had established a close and cordial personal relationship with Mr. Mitterrand's predecessor, Valery Giscard d'Estaing. They were on first name terms, spoke with each other frequently on the telephone -- in English, and though their origins had nothing in common, their pragmatic approach to politics and their view of the world had grown almost identical.
Mr. Schmidt's acquaintance with Mr. Mitterrand, on the other hand, was limited to brief encounters at conferences of the Socialist International -- and they had not warned to each other.
But Schmidt, who has always given the highest priority to the Bonn-Paris accord, has taken great trouble to get on good terms with the New President. The chancellor was the first foreign statesman to call on him after his election. And they subsequently met again at a European Community summit in Luxembourg. Their conference in Bonn which ended July 13 was in the framework of the regular biannual conferences prescribed by the Franco- German treaty by friendship of 1963.
On the issue of the day, East-West relations, and in particular the proposed deployment of a new generation of American medium-range nuclear missiles in Western Europe, Schmidt and Mitterrand are in full agreement.
President Mitterrand said in an interview: "the Soviet SS-20 missiles and backfire bombers destroy the nuclear balance in Europe. I cannot accept that, and I admit that rearmament is necessary if the balance is to be restored. Then , from that postion, negotiations can be started."
If anything, this line is tougher than Schmidt's; the chancellor is pressing for negotiations before missile deployment. Mitterrand is showing himself much more pro-US than is a strong section of the West German Social Democrats on this issue.
The two statesmen devoted much of their time to coordinating their approach to the Western economic summit in Ottawa next week. Both are concerned about the serious deflationary impact of high US interest rates on European economies. But it is expected that the West Germans will be considderably less outspoken than the French. The Germans attribute high rates in their nation partly to the large domestic public sector deficit, and not to American policy alone.
Mitterrand refferred July 13 to the urgent need to stabilize the price of the dollar, and criticized what he called national egoistical financial policies. Schmidt did not dissent, but this is not the language the Germans are using publicly and they are unlikely to risk offending President Reagan by speaking out so forcefully in Ottawa. In any case Schmidt is not optimistic that the US can be persuaded at this stage to cut interest rates.
This difference of emphasis reflects the divergence between French and West German financial and economic policies since the change of leadership in Paris. The West Germans are concentrating on the fight against inflation and on increasing economic competitiveness by pruning social welfare.
In France the aim is to bring down unemploy ment, and costly social reforms are being introduced. West Germany feels it wiser to follow America's economic example than to copy France's.
Despite differences over economic policy in Paris and Bonn, at least Mitterrand and Schmidt have shown themselves determined to cultivate entente.