New French Premier Picks Heavily Socialist Cabinet

Times Staff Writer

Premier Michel Rocard of France, failing to attract prominent centrist politicians to his side, Thursday formed a heavily Socialist Cabinet featuring familiar names from earlier governments.

The Socialist makeup of the Cabinet was so striking and so unexpected that it was widely interpreted as a signal that Socialist President Francois Mitterrand, reelected by a resounding margin Sunday, intends to dissolve the conservative-controlled National Assembly soon and call an election. Most analysts think the Socialists would win it easily.

To some on the right, the new Cabinet with old names was like the flash of a red flag. Four prominent Socialists were back at the posts they had in the government of Premier Laurent Fabius before a conservative coalition defeated the Socialists in the 1986 parliamentary elections: Roland Dumas as minister of foreign affairs, Pierre Beregovoy as minister of finance, Pierre Joxe as minister of the interior and Jack Lang as minister of culture.


Post for Party Secretary

On top of this, Lionel Jospin, the first secretary of the Socialist Party for seven years, was named minister of education. Seven other former Socialist ministers were back in the Cabinet in new posts. A few centrists and nonpolitical technocrats were given minor posts.

Rocard, a moderate Socialist appointed by Mitterrand on Tuesday, had a difficult time forming his government. He tried but failed Wednesday, then met with Mitterrand three times Thursday before they could work out a list of ministers. Under the French constitution, the president, on recommendation of the premier, appoints the Cabinet.

The problem was obvious. The 71-year-old Mitterrand, in the presidential electoral campaign that led to his decisive defeat of conservative Premier Jacques Chirac, had promised to form a government with “openness” toward non-Socialists.

As a step in that direction, he named Rocard, a popular Socialist with a large following outside his party. But Rocard could not persuade any prominent centrist politician to join his Cabinet.

The failure reflected the confusion in the ranks of the loose center-right confederation known as the Union for the French Democracy, which first supported former Premier Raymond Barre in the presidential race and then, after he was eliminated in the first round, switched to Chirac.

With the parties of the right badly divided by the electoral defeat, some Union politicians, among them former Health Minister Simone Veil, hinted at first that they might join a Socialist-centrist coalition government. But they soon changed their minds. They were persuaded by Union leaders like former President Valery Giscard d’Estaing that it would be best for them to serve as “a constructive opposition” to a Rocard government, supporting some of its legislative proposals and rejecting others.

‘Specter of Treason’

In an editorial analysis Thursday, Serge July, editor of the leftist Paris newspaper Liberation, wrote that the Union politicians were haunted by “the specter of treason.” After 14 years of “political concubinage” with Chirac’s right-wing Rally for the Republic party, July said, they can not easily break away to ally with the Socialists.

For the Socialists, the trouble with “constructive opposition” is that it would leave the Rocard government dependent on the whim of the coalition of the Union confederation and Rally party that has a majority of seats in the National Assembly. For fear of losing badly, they do not want a parliamentary election soon. But they might sense a change in the national mood in a few months and then move to bring down the government.

For this reason, many Socialist strategists are urging Mitterrand to call the bluff of the center-right and dissolve the National Assembly right away.