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Cracks widen in the Mitterrand-Chirac partnership in France. Economic, political, and ideological differences may force call for early elections

By William EchiksonSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / June 9, 1986


Jacques Chirac's honeymoon is over. Barely two months after forming France's conservative government, the new prime minister is feeling squeezed. His own supporters want faster action to turn around the languishing economy. At the same time, Socialist President Fran,cois Mitterrand wants him to slow down. The upshot may be early elections, either this autumn or in the first few months of next year.

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This uncertain political situation stems from unprecedented power-sharing between left and right. No previous president in recent French history has faced a hostile Parliament. But when the conservatives won a narrow victory in March's legislative election, President Mitterrand was forced to pick Mr. Chirac as prime minister, even though the two men are ideological enemies.

The resulting marriage, which the French call ``cohabitation,'' has turned into an armed truce. All eyes are fixed on winning the presidency.

Chirac's advisers hope that a successful stint in government will provide the best launching pad for a presidential bid, a smoothing over of their man's reputedly rough and rambunctious edges. ``We must show results,'' says Denis Baudouin, Chirac's spokesman, ``particularly on security and the economy.''

Such results are difficult to achieve. Unemployment refuses to fall, and last month the rate even rose slightly, to about 10 percent. Mr. Baudouin admits that the government's gradual lowering of interest rates and its laissez-faire policies are not going to create jobs immediately. In recent days, ministers have made anguished appeals to businessmen for help. But the Patronat, the lobby for France's bosses, has responded only with complaints that Chirac's government has removed too few economic controls.

``Chirac promised to carry out a Reagan revolution,'' says Philippe Moreau-Defarges of the French Institute of International Relations, ``and he can't possibly satisfy those demands.''

When the prime minister does move to satisfy his supporters demands, he encounters problems. A plan to privatize France's main state-owned television station has resulted in a strike by television employees and a wave of organized opposition. A proposed bill to allow employers greater flexibility in firing workers has provoked opposition even with Chirac's own Gaullists. ``Unemployment will rise in the coming months,'' warns Social Affairs Minister Philippe Seguin, who almost reisgned over the bill. ``We must not move too quickly.''

Chirac also must move cautiously with President Mitterrand. The President has voiced opposition to a broad range of programs, from electoral reform to stiff police powers to privatizing state industry.

Although Mitterrand has no veto power such as a United States president has, he sees his role as ``an umpire.'' His advisers at the Elys'ee Palace say he will use his office as a bully pupit, voicing his opposition to measures which he thinks are unjust or will disturb ``the unity of France.''