Forget the razor-close results and confused political maneuvering. Consider instead the clear message emerging from Sunday's legislative elections: France wants to be governed from the center. Voters rejected both the extreme-right fascism and the extreme-left Marxism. Although they split down the middle with no party gaining an outright majority, experts say voters do not want renewed right-left dueling. They are instead calling for a bipartisan approach on major issues, a pro-European, pro-Atlantic alliance foreign policy, and a free-market economic policy checked by a strong social security system.
This message is spreading not just in France, but throughout Europe. With nuances, both socialist Spain and conservative Britain promote the virtues of NATO and capitalism. The old ideological battles between a collectivist and individualistic vision of the world slowly is slipping into history's dustbin.
``Perhaps this evening we have together won a victory over our hereditary enemy, our division,'' former President Val'ery Giscard d'Estaing commented. ``This election is a call for unity, for the two halves of France to work together.''
Such a profound political shift does not come without difficulties. Because his Socialists failed to win a majority in the new National Assembly, President Fran,cois Mitterrand will be forced to spend the coming days trying to find a coherent way of ruling France.
In the final results released Monday, Mr. Mitterrand's Socialists took 276 seats, and the conservative coalition 271. The Communists captured 26 seats and the National Front, 1. For a majority in the 577-member National Assembly, one party must have 289 seats. Three overseas votes are still not in.
Many races hung on a small number of votes. Socialist businessman Bernard Tapie was named a winner shortly after the polls closed. A few hours later, the results were reversed and Mr. Tapie was declared a loser by 82 votes. On Monday, the businessman candidate remained defiant, declaring, ``We'll wait for the recount.''
No recount will change the essential fact: Mitterrand will have to compromise to govern.
One unlikely option for Mitterrand is to depend on Communist support. Although the Communists won 26 seats and broke their seemingly endless slide since 1981, their share of the popular vote remains at only about 10 percent. Communist Party leader Georges Marchais demands a radical program including stimulating spending and widespread nationalizations of industry.
``I'm a realist,'' said Socialist Finance Minister Pierre Beregovoy. ``I don't put the Communists in the presidential majority.''
More likely, Mitterrand will seek an accommodation with the conservatives, formally by constructing a center-left coalition or informally by naming a Socialist minority government that would gain centrist votes on specific pieces of legislation. In either case, political analysts here expect moderate Michel Rocard to be renamed the country's prime minister.
``I expect a Rocard encore with Parliament becoming more important,'' said Jean-Luc Parodi of the Institute of Political Science.
Whatever the final result, the government that emerges will almost certainly lean toward the political center.
As France and the rest of Western Europe prepare for a unified Common Market in 1992, no one country can swing far from the mainstream. If one country decides to go on a spending binge, economists say, then its capital will flow to its steadier, more prudent neighbor. All countries will have to begin coordinating their respective tax levels.
``The high-tax countries will have to come down and the low-tax countries will have to go up,''says Andr'e Gauron, a top-ranking Finance Ministry official. ``There is no choice but [to] find the difficult middle.''
Most Frenchmen now want this difficult middle. There is consensus on the need for a strong defense, for strong ties with Washington, for competition in businesses, and for the challenge of a tighter European Community.
``We have a majority that agrees on most everything,'' remarked commentator Fran,cois de Closets after the election. ``It is not the party of the right nor the party of the left. It is both of these parties.''