French claim US dollar is 'ruling world'
Paris — ''Europe, a slave to the dollar.''
This front-page editorial headline last week in the prestigious pro-Socialist daily Le Monde highlighted an increasingly vocal attack here by the new Socialist government.
The attack claims Reaganomics is suffocating ambitious Socialist attempts to relaunch and reorient the French economy.
Significantly, in recent days both President Francois Mitterrand and Finance Minister Jacques Delors have complained about high interest rates in the United States and a near-record high dollar.
The result is that both American and French diplomats here are warning that economic differences between President Reagan's fight to bring down inflation and President Mitterrand's battle to decrease unemployment may provide more friction between the two allies than their growing political differences.
''Yet again, and despite their appeals for Western solidarity, notably over Poland, the United States demonstrates with thunder that its domestic affairs continue to take precedence over the interests of their partners,'' Le Monde said. ''As for the Europeans, yet again they are forced to the cruel conclusion that the dollar rules the world and that they are its slaves.''
Although the French government was not guite as harsh in its words as Le Monde, it agreed with the newspaper's analysis. ''High American interest rates contaminate us,'' a French Foreign Ministry official said.
By keeping interest rates high to combat inflation, the French argue that world demand for French produced goods is stifled. And, if France's export markets do not grow, there is little way the Mitterrand government can reach its goal of putting 2 million people back to work without dramatically increasing inflation and balance-of-trade deficits.
High American interest rates also keep the dollar strong - last week it sold briefly for more than 6 francs, up from about 4.5 in the summer of 1980. Since oil prices are calculated in dollars, this means France will have to pay just that much more for its oil. And because France has practically no oil of its own , its balance of trade is sure to suffer.
Already these factors are hurting the French economy. Michel Jobert, France's external trade minister, announced last week that the nation's foreign trade deficit this year is expected to jump to about 80 billion francs ($13.4 billion) from last year's 59.4 billion francs ($10 billion). He attributed this increase primarily to the cost of paying for imported oil.
Also, despite the government's vigorous reflationary measures, it was announced last week that unemployment went up another 0.8 percent last month, leaving 7.5 percent of the labor force unemployed.
If these trends persist, ''The French will probably make us the scapegoat for the failure of their experiment,'' an American diplomat said. He has received information saying that the Socialists will then raise protectionist tariff barriers, turning recent trade skirmishes such as the one over steel into a full-scale commercial war.
These economic strains between Paris and Washington are heightened by the recent political friction between the two sides. The refusal of the French to impose sanctions against the Soviets over Poland as well as the recent decision to sell arms to Nicaragua and sign a huge natural gas contract with the Soviets have miffed the Americans, officials on both sides said.
Still, the officials insisted that these recent French actions had not poisoned Franco-American relations. ''Don't exaggerate our differences,'' a French diplomat warned.
The Americans agreed, emphasizing the two countries' hard-line positions against the Soviet Union. ''Despite our niggling problems, we still consider France a reliable ally,'' one American said.
Still, economics may drive the two countries apart more than Nicaragua, Poland, or gas. ''Down the line, trade could be a much more serious issue,'' the American said.
President Reagan is scheduled to attend an economic summit meeting here in June. ''If the economic situation is no better, it will certainly be a difficult meeting,'' the American official said.