THE FINAL RESULTS of the French election give President Valery Giscard d'Estaing more room to manuever than he has ever enjoyed. The election did not bring the alliance of Communists and Socialists to power, as just about everybody (including ourselves) had expected. But neither was it a simple vote for the status quo. There's not likely to be much movement by the new government in the conventional sort of foreign policy. But in social and economic affairs - which now affect a nation's allies and neighbors as much as the traditional sorts of diplomacy - Mr. Giscard d'Estaing now is in a position to push much more forcefully toward the kind of reforms that he has been promising for some time.
The voters gave the present government's center-right coalition a very comfortable majority, in terms of seats in the next National Assembly. But it is curcial to note that the popular vote was extremely close. The explanation is simply that in France the conservative rural districts are small, and the radical urban ones are large. But in France's schedule will be in 1981, for the presidency. Mr. Giscard d'Estaing was elected in 1974 with 50.8 percent of the vote. Last Sunday the government coalition got 50.6 per cent of the vote. It's reasonable to assume that Mr. Giscard d'Estaing would like to use his new authority to build a majority that he can count in more than tenths of a percentage point.
The returns were paradoxical. They were an authentic triump for the president - but he won it mainly at the expense of his reluctant allies in the Gaullist right. He managed to organize his own party out of the most unpromising kind of material - the fragments of the center, most of which were hardly more than the personal following of one prominent person or another. But it was success and gives him, for the first time, a substantial base of his own in the Assembly. In contrast, the Socialists got more votes than ever and emerged as the biggest of the parties - but the election was a disaster for them. Great though their gains were, they were less than the party had promised. Expectations count for a lot in politics.
The polls had hardly closed when the latest wave of recrimination and backbiting broke out among the erstwhile allies of the left. There is, as you might expect, more than one theory to explain the magical last-minute fading of its majority as reported by the polls. But it seems rather clear that the Communists' tactics had a lot to do with the ultimate failure. They had incessantly and obsessively quarreled with the Socialists, and kept pressing the most radical and inflammatory kind of demands. A lot of Socialists are going to be deeply tempted to abandon the Communists altogether and see what kind of a deal they can strike with President Giscard d'Estaing.
If you look only at the division of votes and seats between the two sides, the center-right and the left, you will miss the most interesting message in the returns. There was a clear movement toward the parties of moderate reform - Mr. Giscard d'Estaing's center group and the Socialists. There is now likely to be a great deal of turbulence and strain in France's party politics, as the players come to terms with that truth and the people on the wings, the more extreme Gaulists and the Communists, recognize the danger of isolation. To everyone's surprise, the dominant forces in French politics now seem to be pushing toward the center, and toward gradual but substantial social change. Pushing toward the center, as you might put it, is very un-French. But for France's friends and allies, it is an extremely happy outcome.