44. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Elbrick) to Secretary of State Dulles 0
- French Political Situation
The following are some impressions on the latest French political developments gained by a Department officer who has just returned from a brief visit to Paris:1
Few Frenchmen are enthusiastic about the Constitution,2 but at the present it is expected that it will be approved by over 60% of the Metropolitan voters at the September 28 referendum. Abstentionism is the main danger. Despite some difficulties in French Guinea, the Black African territories should approve the Constitution and thus opt to remain at least for the present in the French Community. It is anticipated that the Algerians under military pressures will approve it overwhelmingly.
The French Left objects to the strong powers given the executive branch and to the diminished role of the legislature. They feel the Constitution will establish a conservative, static and authoritarian regime. The Right, on the other hand, dislikes the liberal features provided for the African territories. Both feel the Constitution contains germs of conflict between the President and the Prime Minister and object to the fact that a vote for or against the Constitution has a different significance respectively in Metropolitan France, Algeria and the African territories.
Nevertheless, fear of a military “coup d’etat” or civil war, disgust with the former regime and general if not enthusiastic approval of de Gaulle are expected to induce the majority of voters to approve the Constitution. This is the basic and somewhat risky assumption of even those opposing or planning to abstain on the Constitution—in fact many would not oppose if they thought it would not pass. The vote on September 28 is not so much a vote on the Constitution as it is a plebiscite for de Gaulle.
On the assumption that the Constitution will pass, political figures are much more interested in the electoral system that will be used for the National Assembly elections presumably to be held in November. The type of system adopted will have a bearing on the outcome of the elections, so the issue is now under hot dispute in the Cabinet. As matters stand, it is expected that de Gaulle will end by favoring a system that will reduce the Communist representation and probably result in a Center-Right orientation of the next Assembly.[Page 81]
It is expected that de Gaulle will be elected President of the Republic after the beginning of next year. Although the term will be for seven years, de Gaulle owing to health reasons and personal inclination will probably not choose to remain in office for more than two or three years.
De Gaulle is considered by most informed Frenchmen still to favor a federal solution for Algeria, but to feel, also, that he must move very cautiously, given the strong views of the Army. The fact is that de Gaulle is far less nationalistic and far more liberal than the younger generation of military officers. The Army is in complete control in Algeria and while getting fed up with the exigencies of the “colons” is strongly wedded to the impractical formula of integration. De Gaulle reportedly hopes—probably in vain—that there will be a sizeable minority of “no” voters in the Algerian referendum and that a considerable number of deputies sympathetic to the nationalist cause will be elected from Algeria in November. Under such circumstances he could thus play the role he prefers, namely that of supreme arbitrator, rather than an initiator of new policy.
In any case de Gaulle has succeeded so far, despite heavy pressures, not to tie his hands on the Algerian issue and particularly not to endorse integration. Moreover, his advocacy of internal autonomy and evolution toward independence for the Black African territories should have a bearing sooner or later on Algerian developments.
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751.00/9–958. Confidential. Drafted by Looram, sent through Murphy, and initialed by Jandrey.↩
- Not further identified.↩
- de Gaulle’s proposed constitution attempted to combine the features of a presidential type of government, including an independent and powerful Executive, with a parliamentary system in which the executive would be responsible to the legislative branch of the government.↩