Giscard rules out future accord with Socialists

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The Independent Online
VALERY Giscard d'Estaing, France's former president, has said a new 'cohabitation' - a conservative government serving under the Socialist President - is impossible. At the same time, he said he might again be a candidate for the presidency.

Speaking in a television interview over the weekend, Mr Giscard d'Estaing said conditions were not right for a repetition of the 1986-1988 'cohabitation' when Jacques Chirac, the Gaullist leader, was the prime minister under Francois Mitterrand. With a repetition of the situation in 1986 expected after National Assembly elections next March, Mr Giscard d'Estaing said the right could govern only under a neutral president, with a guaranteed full term in office and if the general situation were not too serious.

These conditions could not be met, he said. His words were patently designed to push President Mitterrand, whose second seven-year term expires in 1995, to leave office in the likely event of a conservative victory in March. Pierre Beregovoy, the Socialist Prime Minister, however, yesterday ruled out an early departure for Mr Mitterrand who was found to have cancer of the prostate during surgery last month.

The question of a new 'cohabitation' is a vexed one. Mr Chirac said recently that he was opposed to a new power-sharing arrangement but several politicians, including the Gaullist former prime minister, Jacques Chaban-Delmas, have said that, if elected, the right must govern and could not sustain 'a government strike'. Mr Beregovoy said the right should 'assume its responsibilities' if it gained a parliamentary majority.

Mr Giscard d'Estaing said he could be a candidate, but only for five years, at the next presidential elections. The ex-president, who was in power from 1974 until his defeat by Mr Mitterrand in 1981, said one of his aims would be to 'ease the entry into French political life of a new generation'. Mr Mitterrand should carry out promised constitutional reforms to cut the presidential mandate from seven to five years, he said.

The main criticism of the current French political scene is that the same trio, Mr Chirac, Mr Giscard d'Estaing and Mr Mitterrand, have dominated it since the death of President Georges Pompidou 18 years ago. Brice Lalonde, the head of one of France's two ecologist parties and a former environment minister, scoffed at Mr Giscard d'Estaing's concern for 'a new generation' yesterday and said he should start 'by renewing himself'.

While the right drew the battlelines for the stormy months ahead, it indulged in a few skirmishes behind allied lines. At a weekend meeting of the youth movement of the Gaullist RPR, Mr Chirac called on Mr Giscard d'Estaing's centre-right Union for French Democracy (UDF) to hold primaries for a joint presidential candidate.

In the last two elections, the right has fielded two candidates, easing Mr Mitterrand's victory. 'We don't want these primaries but we are not afraid of them,' Mr Giscard d'Estaing said. According to opinion polls, Mr Chirac is better placed to win a presidential election than his UDF rival, explaining the Gaullist haste for primaries and UDF reluctance.

Mr Beregovoy faces an opposition no-confidence vote when the 1993 budget is debated in the National Assembly today. But, with the end of the legislature due in five months, the opposition is unlikely to push for an early government fall.