The investiture of Francois Mitterrand marks the beginning of a new social and political era for France. But it may take several months -- if not years -- to discern the full scope of the administration's proposed socialist program and its international impact.
Since Mr. Mitterrand's May 10 election, France has already undergone a dramatic change.
Where once a sense of political apathy pervaded France, the future of the nation has suddenly become everyone's first concern. The shock of victory has shaken the left out of its opposition negativity and created a new spirit of enthusiasm. The old right-wing majority, complacent after 23 years of power, has unexpectedly found itself obliged to revitalize its forces in order to survive.
To the thunder of a 21-cannon salute, the first Socialist president in 23 years and the 21st in the history of France, solemnly told the nation in a televised inaugural address at the Elysee Palace May 21 that the majority of French men and women have voted for a "new alliance of socialism and liberty."
Then, in his first decisive move, the new president appointed a moderate in the social democratic tradition as his prime minister. Pierre Mauroy, the dynamic mayor of Lille often referred to as "the Baron" of the Socialist Party, is known as a versatile administrator. And, as a man who has demonstrated his preference for teamwork rather than individual power politics, Mauroy is considered to be Mitterrand's best man to carry the left through the legislative elections.
"He has managed to remain above party infighting, made few enemies, and is just one of the few leading Socialists capable of reassuring both the Communists and the center left," noted one political commentator.
The new prime minister is expected to form his Cabinet May 22, once Mitterrand has officially signed the decree dissolving parliament and called for legislative elections in June. Lacking a working majority in the present parliament, the new government will require a left-wing National Assembly to help push through its proposed economic and social reforms.
The new administration is expected to refrain from making any major policy decisions until after the legislative elections, although it has already indicated that it will raise the minimum wage by 10 percent immediately and will substantially increase family, old age, and other such benefits over the next six weeks. Mitterrand is also expected to announce his government's position on the Middle East and the reform of the European Community in the days to come.
There are already strong indications that the Socialists will succeed in expanding their representation in the National Assembly. According to a recent major opinion poll, the Socialists and their junior partner, the Radical Left Movement, can expect to draw a combined 36 percent share of the national vote. This would make them the largest single parliamentary group. At present, they only hold 114 seats in contrast to the 275 of the neoGaulists and Giscardians.
But it seems doubtful that the Socialists can obtain an absolute majority on their own. Obliged to seek political allies in the House, Mitterrand had scarcely hidden his preference for a strong center-left coalition including left-wing neo-Gaullists and Giscard defectors.
In his inaugural address, he declared that "my goal is not to vanquish but to convince. The only victor of May 10, 1981, is hope. . . . As the president of all the French, I want to unite the great causes that await us and create the conditions for a new national community."
The idea of Communist ministers in government is not only distasteful to many conservatives, but also Socialists. Although Mitterrand needs Communists votes to win, he plans to appeal directly to traditional Communist supporters and reduce their parliamentary strenght to a point where they can no longer function as a threat.
Holding 86 seats at the moment, the Communist Party, according to the polls, faces another decline in its fortune from the 15 percent obtained in the April 26 first round presidential elections to 13 percent. This means that the Communists could find themselves with between 20 and 30 seats left.
The Socialists have warned that they are prepared to hold the door open to the Communists on the condition that they fully agree to Mitterrand's government plan. But this would mean important concessions on its pro-Moscow policies toward Afghanistan, Poland, and the Middle East, as well as the installation of Pershing II missiles in Europe. "If they don't change," warned Lionel Jospin, secretary-general of the Socialist Party, "there will be no deal."