rime Minister Pierre Mauroy, eight other Cabinet members and a star presidential adviser took advantage of a two-day conference ending today to try reassure foreign businessmen and the French public that the new Socialist government is "pragmatic" when it comes to economic affairs.
The proceedings, sponsored by the International Herald Tribune, attracted 276 participants, each of whom paid $1,078 to attend, and an extraordinary amount of media coverage.
The unusual Cabinet turnout for a symposium sponsored by an American-owned newspaper reflected concern for its image abroad as a responsible government despite its nationalizations and other measures judged questionable by France's conservative allies.
French government-controlled television gave the meeting second billing on the main evening news program. And the French press also covered the conference, but with various doses of irony depending largely on the various publications' degree of sympathy for the government.
Finance Minister Jacques Delors set the tone by declaring, "You see we are not Martians who have landed in Europe," an admission that domestic and foreign businessmen had been taken somewhat aback by the government's determination to nationalize 39 banks and eight key industrial groups.
With the dollar now worth almost six francs, compared to only four not many years ago, and unemployment and inflation showing no signs of abating, the presence of so many ministers with foreign businessmen was also viewed as a reassuring sign. One minister after another described the government's program as "pragmatic."
The businessmen got a whiff of an underlying toughness of approach, however, when various ministers denounced high U.S. interest rates or quarreled with mild criticism voiced in a moderately worded report recently issued by the 24-nation Organization of Economic Development and Cooperation.
Andre Chandernagor, the deputy foreign minister for European affairs, left his listeners with the clear impression that protectionism is gaining support in France. He never actually used the word, but he spoke pointedly about the threat to Europe from high-technology Japanese goods and low-cost imports from newly industrializing countries.