After President Fran,cois Mitterrand was reelected last May, he ordered his advisers at the 'Elys'ee Palace to do a ``complete review'' of France's foreign policy. The conclusion, one adviser recently recounted, was: ``We have to be much more active in the East.''
That conclusion now has translated into a flurry of action.
Mr. Mitterrand leaves today for a two-day trip to the Soviet Union, where he will meet with Mikhail Gorbachev. He received Hungarian leader Karoly Grosz last week in Paris. Next month, the French President travels to Czechoslovakia. He goes to Bulgaria in January. And he has accepted open invitations to visit East Germany and Hungary.
Fascinated as the French are by perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness), they are not infected by ``Gorbymania,'' the wave of affection for Mr. Gorbachev that is sweeping the rest of Western Europe.
Dismantling the Iron Curtain would place Paris in a delicate position.
The French fear West Germany's Ostpolitik, its seeking of better relations with the East, particularly with Moscow. Key to French security and well-being is keeping Germany divided.
``Remember, the Germans will do anything, pay any price, for reunification,'' says one French expert on East Europe. ``We must stop them.''
Analysts here say that the French also don't want to give Bonn a monopoly over potentially lucrative Soviet and East European markets. When West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl was in Moscow last month, he offered loans of $3.2 billion. Mitterrand is expected to offer the Soviets $2 billion in loans.
``The Soviets and East Europeans don't want to be dependent on the Germans,'' says one French diplomat based behind the Iron Curtain. ``They want another outlet.''
The open question is whether France can offer that outlet.
Paris in the past has played a key role in the East. France was a major lender to the Czarist government and formed military alliances with Imperial Russia to help fend off the Germans.
``We always have been trying to approach this beautiful lady, France,'' says Jozsef Benyi, Hungary's Deputy Foreign Minister. ``France has great prestige, not only in Budapest, but also in Moscow.''
But analysts here say the Soviets and East Europeans feel prestige is not enough; they want constructive actions. Here France falls short. France is not as rich as West Germany, and in recent years it has concentrated its economic energies on Africa and the Middle East.
So when the 'Elys'ee Palace adviser was asked what results would emerge from the Moscow trip, he answered, ``Nothing concrete.''