How to avoid French fines: it's in timing. Count on post-election parking `amnesty'

For many Frenchmen, the most discussed consequence of President Fran,cois Mitterrand's reelection is not his new economic and foreign policy initiatives. It is his parking amnesty.

Mr. Mitterrand's new Socialist government announced after last Wednesday's Cabinet meeting that all parking fines up to May 22 would be canceled. The amnesty stems from an old Gallic tradition of governments forgiving past transgressions.

``Whenever a new king was crowned or a war ended, an amnesty was declared,'' explains Marie-Annick Darmaillac of the Justice Ministry. ``Under the Fifth Republic, the practice was institutionalized.''

After his first victory in 1981, President Mitterrand gave a generous pardon - not only to parking-ticket holders, but also to some criminals, even the accused terrorists of the Direct Action group.

Parisians in particular never have been careful about where they park. They count on the amnesty.

But before the May presidential vote the system fell apart. So many cars crowded the sidewalks that it became hazardous to take a simple stroll.

``In the months before the election, fewer than 15 percent of parking fines were paid,'' recalls Henri Veillard, of the Paris Police Department. ``Everyone was waiting for the amnesty.''

They have not been disappointed. Mrs. Dermaillac of the Justice Ministry says that 6 million parking fines will be forgotten. Some 4,400 criminals serving terms of less than four months also will be released from prison, less than the 6,200 in 1981.

``We want to forgive,'' says Dermaillac, ``without appearing lax.''

To most motorists, that sounds just fine. John Edelson, an American resident in Paris, was scared of being forced to pay parking fines of several hundred dollars.

``Ever since I arrived in France, I was counting on the amnesty,'' he says. ``This is the direction a new American president should move in.''

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