851.00/6–1848: Telegram

The Ambassador in France ( Caffery ) to the Secretary of State

us urgent

3237. For State, Treasury and ECA. In view of the small majority (eight votes) which the Government obtained in the vote on London-German proposals1 it is perhaps opportune briefly to summarize the Government’s present position vis-à-vis French public and particularly Parliamentary opinion.

Insofar as public opinion is concerned, the Government’s position has unquestionably weakened during the past month, largely as a result of the series of Parliamentary crises on the question of reduction in number of Government workers; Government subsidies to students attending Catholic schools; and the German problem. While all evidence points to the fact that a majority of the French people do not want the Schuman Government to fall since they cannot foresee what combination would succeed it and because they believe that in the next few critical months maximum possible political stability is essential if economic stability is to be realized, their belief in the government’s ability to survive, and indeed even to cope with the situation has been seriously shaken by the last four weeks of almost uninterrupted atmosphere of crisis.

The Government’s position vis-à-vis the Assembly has weakened even more. As I have reported, a most unfortunate “preelectoral” atmosphere is becoming increasingly evident in the Assembly, encouraged on the one hand by the desire of individual deputies and political parties to trim their sails for the October elections, and on the other hand by a feeling that the Communists are weaker now than they were during their offensive of last autumn (despite the disturbances at Clermont–Ferrand), that the internal economic and social situation is better, and that therefore political manoeuvering is not only permissible but even necessary. It is an incontestable fact that individual [Page 638] deputies and political parties within the Government majority are increasingly showing less real disposition to make concessions in the interest of national unity than they did several months ago.

As matters now stand it is generally believed that the Parliament will remain in session until the latter part of August, when it will adjourn until after the October elections. If the Schuman Government can remain in power until Parliament adjourns it will probably last till after the elections without great difficulty. Its real problem therefore is to survive the period till Parliament adjourns.

In view of controversial issues with which the Assembly is still faced and in view of the atmosphere now reigning in the Assembly, a majority of political leaders and qualified observers (within and without the government) believe that the chances of the Schuman Government, as it is now composed, to survive the next three critical months are small, and that if it is to survive the Cabinet will have to be soon reshuffled. (Bidault’s position is so weak as a result of the German debate that he will have difficulty in lasting. Also Rene Mayer is unhappy about the economic and financial situation and is said by certain sources to be anxious to leave his present post in which event it might be offered to Paul Reynaud, although it is not certain by any means that at this juncture he would accept unless he believed there was a real possibility of succeeding. If Mayer is called upon to compromise seriously his policies he would in my opinion take this step.[)]

Between now and the Assembly’s expected adjournment in August the Government will have to surmount a number of hurdles, any one of which could result in an adverse vote, thus entailing Schuman’s fall. The most serious question is, of course, the basic question of wages and prices. This is expected rapidly to come to the fore. In particular the question of an increase in the price of coal which would result in increases in prices of gas, electricity, transport, manufactured items, et cetera, is most serious for it would result almost inevitably in causing FO and CFTC to join with CGT in demanding wage increases. The Cabinet is split on how to handle this question, with the Socialists and MRP favoring Government coal subsidies to maintain the present coal prices and prevent a wave of social agitation followed by wage increases, whereas René Mayer, while realizing the serious social consequences in price increases and desiring to avoid them, is nonetheless opposed strongly to the principle of Government subsidies, and says he will not assume responsibility for Government subsidies which will throw his budget again out of equilibrium. (Schuman and Mayer have approached ECA Mission on possibility of continuing present coal price until October and covering difference through indirect use of counterpart. Mayer is seeking a way to avoid controversial issue at this [Page 639] time without requesting subsidy. To do so in his opinion would compromise his position that subsidies must be abolished. Bruce2 and Tomlinson3 have informally discouraged French in their request pending review of complete program. They are reporting discussions separately in detail. Ministerial Committee is taking entire question up this evening).

If the Government does succeed in finding some solution for the wage-price dilemma it will still be subject to serious strains on the following other issues which will come before the Parliament (1) the October cantonal and Council of Republic elections, particularly method of voting in the latter; (2) the discussions on the budget which will at best be acrimonious and which insofar as military expenses are concerned will be particularly heated; (3) the general question of French national defense which will be aggravated by the speech De Gaulle is expected to make at Verdun on June 20, bitterly attacking the Government for its defense and security program; (4) the question of the French press, and particularly the future of the so-called resistance press vis-à-vis the prewar moderate press; (5) the question of the limitation of surplus Government workers, which although temporarily settled by the recent Assembly vote may raise its ugly head again because of Socialist dissatisfaction.

In view of the foregoing it seems evident that the Government is going to have its hands very full indeed in the next three critical months.

Bruce and Tomlinson would appreciate foregoing being passed to Treasury and ECA.

Sent Department 3237, repeated London 562, Berlin 348, Brussels 88, Rome 272.

  1. For documentation on the recommendations on Germany submitted by representatives of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg to their respective Governments, June 7, 1948, see volume ii .
  2. David K. E. Bruce, Chief of the Economic Cooperation Administration mission in France.
  3. William M. Tomlinson, representative at Paris of the Department of the Treasury.