Paris: President Francois Mitterrand observed recently that he doesn’t mind being consistently beaten by his youthful prime minister in the popularity polls.

With. A smile, he told television viewers, “‘I certainly wouldn’t want the prime minister to be as unpopular as I am.”

Such remarks form part of Mitterrand’s newest effort to regain favor with the French. It was the second of two “‘fireside chat’’ style televised conversations with journalists.

A host of public events seems to be on the slate for French leaders as the Socialist government groans past the middle of the seven year presidential term and braces for crucial parliamentary elections just a year away.


Mitterrand’s first TV appearance focused on foreign policy. He had much to account for, following a diplomatic debacle over France’s role in Chad.

Mitterrand is widely perceived to have been duped by Libyan leader Mohmmad Khadafy, who promised he would remove his troops from Chad if France would.

The French did, and the Reagan administration leaked the news that Libyan troops remained alongside the rebels trying to overthrow Chadian President Hissene Habre.

A second question and answer session with journalists Jan. 16 was dominated by the government’s policy regarding the French colony of New Caledonia. A virtual state of siege has gripped the South Pacific islands since native Kanaks rejected the partial power they were given in elections Nov. 18. Instead of accepting limited selfrule, the Kanak separatists embarked on a campaign of violence against white loyalists.

During his television chat, Mitterrand casually dropped the bombshell that he would fly off to New Caledonia to view the problems for himself.

After 50 hours of flying to spend less than a day in New Caledonia, Mitterrand again took to the airwaves to talk to the voters and later invited the Paris press corps for champagne and an off the record chat.

There have been other attempts at winning extensive exposure. Since the New Year, Mitterrand has swung from visiting the Brittany town of Rennes to opening a display of comic strips in Angouleme northeast of Bordeaux.

When a fire destroyed a nursing home east of Paris, four ministers were at the site. A gas explosion brought equally senior government delegations. The agriculture minister was on the scene, visiting markets when a cold snap destroyed crops across France

Whether the drive to improve the Socialists’ image will work will not be known until parliamentary elections in the spring of 1986.

The Socialists have beat inflation down from 14 percent when they took power in 1981 to 6.7 percent for 1984. They ran the foreign trade deficit to its highest level ever in 1982 $11 billion before reducing the debt to $2.2 billion last year with the help of a weak franc.

But the Socialists promised to get unemployment under 2 million, and international experts predict the number of jobless will top 2.8 million by the end of 1985.

Mitterrand’s plans to improve the economy by closing down inefficient nationalized industries will only worsen unemployment and further erode the leftist base of the Socialist Party.

Polls show 51 percent of the French do not believe their sacrifices are doing anything to revive the economy, which eclipses all other issues in the minds of the voters.

Mitterrand devoted much of his last television chat using graphs and charts to show viewers how much the Socialists have improved the economy. In surveys conducted in mid-January, his acceptance rating rose from about 30 percent to 39 percent.

But Mitterrand still lags behind Prime Minister Laurent Fabius’ 50 percent popularity rating, although he hopes to catch up.

Article extracted from this publication >> February 8, 1985