On 2,000 francs, it would be hard to fly the French coop
Paris — ''Capri, c'est fini.'' This Paris newspaper headline, taken from an old song about the end to a lover's enchanted travel, describes reaction here to France's most controversial austerity measure - financial limits on tourist trips abroad.
The new regulation would forbid the use of credit cards and limit a family of four to spending only 10,000 francs - about $1,400 - a year outside France.
''If these measures are upheld,'' stated the French travel agents' trade association, ''hundreds of our companies will go bankrupt and thousands of employees will lose their jobs.''
Both the right- and left-wing press agreed that only drastic action has a chance of reducing the country's ballooning balance of payments deficit - 93 billion francs (about $13 billion) last year and more than 16 billion francs ($2 .2 billion) for the first two months of 1983 alone.
But opinion appears unanimous that the travel measure is a serious mistake.
''It is anti-democratic, it limits our view of the world,'' commented Dr. Michel Ogrizek, a French anthropologist. Adds Professor Alfred Grosser of Paris Institute of Political Studies: ''Foreign travel is a symbol of non-confinement - of liberty.''
A similar move in 1968 by President Charles de Gaulle to avoid a devaluation of the franc provoked no public protest. But, as the left-leaning Le Monde newspaper commented, ''Times have changed. Travel abroad and credit cards are a way of life.''
Of the French who take a vacation, 18 percent leave the country. Most of these are people between the ages of 20 and 39. ''It's not that many,'' says political scientist Jean-Luc Parodi, ''but they're the vocal ones who get heard.''
Top-level government sources insist the measures were needed to dramatize the seriousness of the French financial crisis which, in mid-March, led to the third devaluation of the franc since the Socialists came to power. The government ''is asking the French to make a common effort in a situation that is momentarily difficult,'' explained Minister of Foreign Trade and Tourism Edith Cresson.
How momentary is debatable. Austerity, aimed at cutting imports, is expected to dampen consumer demand by 65 billion francs (about $9 billion), or 2 percent of the gross domestic product in 1983. Even so, the government estimates it will take two years to bring imports and export earnings into balance and thus reduce France's heavy borrowing requirements, which last year were second only to Mexico.
By year's end, the government is predicting inflation will drop to 8 percent from 10 percent. The inflation goal for the end of 1984 is an optimistic 4 to 5 percent.
The government is counting on the drop in world oil prices, increased exports caused by a weakened value of the dollar, and a sustained pickup in the United States economy to take over where its own policies may falter or fail. Positive results must begin to come in soon or, currency traders believe, a fourth devaluation may be necessary.
The next devaluation would not be yet another European currency realignment, but would probably force France out of the European Monetary System, a decision President Francois Mitterrand chose not to make two weeks ago.
The austerity measures are hard to swallow for the government's left-wing supporters who believe that a Socialist regime cannot abandon its social program , but must pursue inflationary policies that, it is believed, benefit the less affluent and reduce unemployment.
The package, however, is classically deflationary and brings the Socialist government in line with policies being pursued by Helmut Kohl and his conservative coalition in West Germany and Margaret Thatcher's conservatives in Britain. According to reports, the West Germans greeted the program with respect.
In France, at the Socialist Party's weekend conference, differing factions questioned the program's eventual success. Christian Goux, head of the Socialist's parliamentary finance commission, predicted that the drop in demand would have a negative effect on employment and investment. Deflation, he said, would lead ''to a decline of (economic) activity, to difficulties in balancing the budget and social security system accounts, and a worsening financial situation for business.''
Government sources dismissed this criticism - even though for the first time in 20 years purchasing power in France is certain to lag behind inflation. They point out that it is far easier to reflate than it is to dampen demand. It will certainly be more popular. Among the Socialists, austerity has raised, for the first time, the specter of political defeat for the party in the legislative elections of 1986.