FRANCE'S political turmoil would be of little concern outside the country, if it weren't that the anger of French voters betrays, beyond domestic concerns, a growing angst over Europe's direction and France's place in the new Europe. This anxiety may portend troubles ahead for European unification.
What has French voters worried, besides the economy? There's the tide of immigrants, mainly Muslims from North Africa and Turkey, who take jobs and, what's worse, introduce an alien element into the French culture. Le Pen's neofascist National Front has successfully tapped into bias against the newcomers.
More broadly, the French are feeling unsettled by the sudden crumbling of the cold-war order, in which France was securely positioned as a vital part of the bulwark against Soviet expansionism. Paradoxically, the Soviet threat permitted France to play its prickly, aloof role, secure in the knowledge that NATO couldn't afford to become too exasperated with French hauteur. Today, with the threat gone, France is less sure of its standing.
Most important, there's the resurgence of a reunited Germany. Not only is it clear that Germany is rapidly becoming the economic Bigfoot of Europe. It's also clear that, looking east as much as west, Germany is not reassuringly anchored to a European vision and agenda fashioned in Paris.
With some of the promises of unification coming into question, experts believe that many in France, and in Europe generally, only now are truly focusing on the full implications of European unity - and of the resulting subordination of national prerogatives to pan-European, bureaucratic management. The recent vote in France may have been in part a warning to slow down the high-speed train to unification until its meaning is more fully assimilated.
With Mitterrand weakened and the French public restive, France may start to apply the brakes, with unforeseeable consequences for issues ranging from the GATT trade negotiations to Western defense to European integration.