Socialist France may take time to warm to Bonn's conservative Kohl
Paris — As Chancellor Helmut Kohl prepares to fly to Paris today to meet Francois Mitterrand, officials at the Finance Ministry are concentrating on a most uneconomic question - the political makeup of the new West German government.
The French are worried that if the new West German government shifts sharply to the right, it could sabotage their newly imposed economic austerity program. More generally, there is some anxiety here that the juxtaposition of a right-wing government in Bonn and a Socialist one in Paris will strain close French-German relations.
The immediate French worry is over Mr. Kohl's economic policies. ''We are watchful,'' a Finance Ministry official said. ''All our hypotheses are based on the premise that our growth will not be very different from that of the rest of Europe.''
West Germany is France's biggest trading partner, so any sharp shift in German economic policy has immediate repercussions here. As a result of the deep economic links, the two country's former leaders, Valery Giscard d'Estaing and Helmut Schmidt, saw the French-German axis as the vital link in Europe, and went out of the way to pamper each other.
This special relationship was strained for a time after Mr. Mitterrand's government came to power in May 1981. Mitterrand's sharp economic shift clearly worried the more fiscally orthodox Mr. Schmidt. But the two governments retained common views on most issues and their economic differences narrowed in recent months as Mitterrand moderated his policies.
If a further shift to the right in Bonn translates into a more restrictive fiscal policy, the countries' economic policies would once again diverge. A tighter West German fiscal stance would put pressure on the French to become more cautious about budget deficits. This would be difficult politically for a leftist government that has already clamped on a wage freeze and considerably cut back on planned public spending.
Another problem could be the French franc. Even before the West German change in government, President Mitterrand was fighting furiously to avoid the franc's third devaluation since last October.
Because the two countries are so closely tied economically, the franc's relation to the German mark is crucial. Until now international bankers say the Bundesbank has helped support the French currency. They also say the Schmidt government permitted the French to draw liberally on the resources of the European monetary system to help prop up the franc.
Will the Kohl government be so cooperative? Some bankers here say no.
''The relationship between the Bank of France and the Bundesbank won't be as good in the future,'' predicted Jacques Roussellet of First Boston here. ''The Kohl government won't support the franc like before.''
In the international arena, the French don't expect the Kohl government to radically change West German foreign policy. The French think ostpolitik will remain the main line of West German policy.
''West German interests haven't changed,'' one French Foreign Ministry official said.
But under Kohl nuances might change, and this could lead to Franco-German strains. Socialists here have been saying, for example, they cannot see Kohl having the same consideration as the Social Democrat Schmidt did for their sympathies for the Nicaragua Sandinistas, the El Salvador guerrillas, or the third world in general.
An even more worrying prospect, the Socialists have been saying, is that Kohl will move away from France to the British, with their conservative prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. The French have long been in conflict with the British over Common Market agricultural and budget policy, and they count on German partnership to get their way in the European Community.
But the French don't think this much of a shift in German policy is imminent. The two countries are too strongly tied, they say.