French President Francois Mitterrand today dissolved the lower house of parliament to make way for general elections in less than a month and named a Cabinet dominated by the moderates in his own Socialist Party and excluding the Communists.
The government also adopted stringent economic measures designed to bolster the franc, including restrictions on currency exchange and an increase in the interest rate by the Bank of France from 18 to 22 percent -- the highest in history -- effective Monday.
There were no major surprises in the list of 30 full ministers and 12 junior ones. But the large number of Cabinet posts, the careful attention to balancing party factions and center-left allies, and the detailed reorganization of the governmental structure implied by the job titles created the impression that this government seems intended to last beyond the elections.
The impression of competence and political clout given by the Cabinet team contrasted sharply with the general impression of mediocrity given by most members of the outgoing Cabinet. But there was also potential for factional struggle in the new Cabinet that had been present in the last, mostly nonpolitical government of technocrats under former president Valery Giscard d'Estaing.
Politically, the single most important post after Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy, whose appointment yesterday was the first political act in Mitterrand's first day in office, went to Mayor Gaston Defferre of Marseilles as interior minister. That post controls the organization of elections and the national police. Defferre, 70, is publicly identified as the party's most moderate and anticommunist leader, thanks to his success in keeping the powerful Marseilles Communist Party organization in check since 1944.
Another leading Socialist moderate, Jacques Delors, 56, was named economy and finance minister, the key post for the immediate defense of the French franc against the heavy speculative pressure since Mitterrand's victory on May 10 and for the longer-term economic changes the president has pledged.
As the chief aide to Gaullist former prime minister Jacques Chaban-Delmas a decade ago, Delors, a respected university economist, was in effect vice premier and probably has the broadest governmental experience of anyone in the top team after Mitterrand and Defferre. Delors describes himself as a moderate Social Democrat.
Delors took part late yesterday in Mauroy's first important decisions -- a hurried set of stringent measures to strengthen the franc, including a rise in the bank rediscount rate to a record 22 percent (compared to 12.5 percent before Mitterrand's election) to try to counteract the flight of capital.
The measures only momentarily eased pressure on the franc, which had reached a 12-year low of 5.58 francs to the dollar yesterday. After momentarily going back to 5.52 this morning, the franc closed the day at a new low of 5.59, apparently in response to rumors of a devaluation during the weekend.
Pierre Joxe, a Mitterrand loyalist considered a doctrinaire leftist, is industry minister, and will have to deal with nationalizations -- the new government's most controversial program.
The new government's foreign minister is Claude Cheysson, 60, a professional diplomat and the French member of the European Common Market Executive Commission in Brussels. Cheysson's espousal of Third World causes makes many Western diplomats uneasy.
The relatively minor job of long-term economic planning and territorial development went to Mitterrand's chief rival inside the Socialist Party, right-wing factional leader Mnichel Rocard. There had been doubt that he would be in the Cabinet, but his popularity with middle-class voters apparently was to much of an electoral asset to pass up.
Gaullist former foreign minister Michel Jobert, who has been given the job of trying to rally as many left-wing Gaullists as possible to Mitterrand, was made foreign trade minister with the rank of minister of state.
The fifth minister of state, Nicole Questiaux, 50, is head of the newly created National Solidarity Ministry, with responsibility for a variety of welfare programs.
The Justice portfolio went to an old Mitterrand political ally, former Radical Party leader Maurcie Faure, 59. It will be his job to shepherd through the repeal of the highly contested "Security and Liberty Law" -- a codification of restrictive law-and-order measures.
The justice minister will also be charged with enacting into law the Socialist pledge to abolish the death penalty. France is the last major West European country that still has the death penalty.
Three persons have been sentenced to death in the last 24 hours, and five others are already on death row.
Mitterrand can be expected to delay announcing formal stays of execution until after the legislative voting.
Mayor Michel Crepeau of La Rochelle, leader of the Radicals of the Left Movement, is environment minister. Crepeau's inclusion is particularly interesting because he ran in the first round of the presidential election.
The Defense Ministry went to Mitterrand associate Charles Hernu, mayor of the large Lyons industrial suburb of Villeurbaine and for years the party's leading defense specialist. His views are in the mainstream of Atlantic Alliance strategic thinking.
The foreign minister was flanked with two special ministers, moderate party veteran Andre Chandernagor, 59, for Common Market affairs, and young Rocard ally Jean-Pierre Cot, 43, for African cooperation.
Laurent Fabius, a young Mitterrand lieutenant, was made budget minister.