It is just a year since President Valery Giscard D'Estaing of France appointed a new Prime Minister, Monsieur Raymond Barre.
It is just a year since President Valery Giscard D'Estaing of France appointed a new Prime Minister, Monsieur Raymond Barre. The immediate reason was the need to replace Monsieur Jacques Chirac, who had resigned after policy and personality clashes with his President. But the political consequences for the government coalition in France have been far-reaching.
SYNOPSIS: Monsieur Barre, who took over from Monsieur Chirac on August 25th last year, is a distinguished economist, who had served as a Commissioner of the European Economic Community in Brussels. He has no strong party ???affiliations - unlike Monsieur Chirac, who has always been an active Gaullist politician. He had been President Giscard's Prime Minister for two years.
But after the breach between them, Monsieur Chirac has pursued a strongly independent line, sometimes amounting to open hostility to the government. He believes that, with Parliamentary elections due early next year, the best policy is to attack the left constantly and hard. He is widely believed to have set his sights on the next Presidency for himself. As party leader, he has inherited the mantle of Charles de Gaulle; and Gaullism still forms the hard core of the right wing in France.
Last December, the Gaullist party was refounded under a new name: the Rally for the Republic. It elected Monsieur Chirac its President and gave him a rousing welcome at a mass meeting.
Then, in March of this year, he gave a demonstration of his political strength. He ran for office as Mayor of Paris, and not only won convincingly against a swing to the left. He also defeated the candidate personally sponsored by President Giscard, the Industry Minister, Monsieur Michel d'Ornano.
Monsieur Barre, as Prime Minister, was given the specific brief of strengthening the French economy. President Giscard took the view that this would bring the best electoral dividends. Monsieur Barre has accordingly concentrated on keeping down inflation, and maintaining the balance of trade and the value of the franc. Unemployment has risen in the wake off his policies of tight credit and price restraint. During the early summer, there were repeated strikes and protest demonstrations in Paris. A second Barre plan has since shifted the emphasis onto creating employment.
Monsieur Georges Marchais, the Communist Party leader, has been working closely with the Socialist leader, Monsieur Francois Mitterand. Monsieur Mitberand ran Monsieur Giscard very close in the Presidential election in 1974. Since then the Socialist-Communist alliance has gained control of two-thirds of France's major towns in the municipal elections, and has good prospects for next year's Parliamentary election if the two parties stay together. But they have recently moved apart on several key issues, particularly nuclear defence.
President Giscard himself has a seven-year term, which keeps him in office until 1981. Whether he will have a Parliamentary majority behind him after next year's elections looks like depending on whether the left or the right is the more successful in healing its own internal dissensions.