The French and their franc

Will the French respond to President Mitterrand and make the effort to save their economy with individual sacrifices fairly shared? His Socialist Party controls the National Assembly. So it ought to pass his proposed laws for enforcing saving and cutting spending when they are presented next week. But Mr. Mitterrand knows that more than legal impetus is needed, and he has called on motives of patriotism and duty to help turn around a situation of high inflation, trade deficits, and a devalued currency.

Speaking to the nation last week, he put France's problems in the context of world economic crisis. Certainly the state of the world economy has been a burden for those taking office in the '80s. Yet Mr. Mitterrand's proposals imply that not only outside factors are to blame. They imply that at least some modification is needed in the Socialist prescriptions with which he came into the presidency in 1981.

He probably looks across the water at President Reagan, who took office the same year with a different set of prescriptions, to the right instead of the left. As Mr. Reagan has moved toward the center, bringing criticism from his right-wing supporters, so Mr. Mitterrand moves toward the center, bringing criticism from his left-wing supporters. It will be interesting to see where both countries are two years from now.

As recently as two months ago France could congratulate itself for reducing inflation while stabilizing unemployment. But even then there were gloomy forecasts. These have been borne out with French inflation remaining much higher than that of its main trading partners, with trade balances and currency values in trouble.

The French expressed their anxiety, as Mr. Mitterrand put it, in this month's first round of municipal elections when the left was set back. He suggested they expressed confidence in the second round - covering undecided elections from the first round - when there was a bare-majority tilt to the left.

Whether such a shade of difference should give the Socialists hope remains to be seen. The naming of a smaller, streamlined cabinet is an evident attempt to show the government means to do its part in meeting the economic challenges.

Will the people pitch in, accepting higher tax charges, giving part of their income in ''forced'' loans to the state, spending no more than $275 abroad each year - in general, paying more for being French? And will the economic and social justice for which Mr. Mitterrand originally campaigned remain no less a goal? It ought to be no less attainable near the center than on the left or right.

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