PARIS — Socialist President Francois Mitterrand said Monday that he will refuse to sign a decree on the return to private ownership of 65 state-owned French companies, raising the prospect of damage to a power-sharing arrangement with the right-wing government.
Asked in a television interview whether he would sign the decree due to be presented this week, Mitterrand said, "In the present situation, certainly not."
He said he could not allow the government of Premier Jacques Chirac to bypass Parliament by using the decree mechanism, adding, "It is up to Parliament to assume its responsibilities."
Under the constitution, Mitterrand can refuse to sign decrees, which are issued by the government without full discussion in Parliament. But he is obliged to sign bills that have gone the full parliamentary route. The right-wing government has a wafer-thin but so far loyal majority of three in the National Assembly.
Members of Chirac's government have warned that Mitterrand's refusal could seriously damage a four-month-old power sharing arrangement between the president and the right-wing ruling coalition.
Duty to Protest Heritage
Mitterrand, explaining his opposition to decrees, said it is his duty to protect the French heritage and the industrial base that guaranteed its independence.
"I do not have, at the present time, the assurances which I need," he said in a traditional July 14 Bastille Day interview.
The decree, due to go for Cabinet approval Wednesday, details the pricing methods and conditions of sale for the firms, which include banks, insurance companies and major industries.
Housing Minister Pierre Mehaignerie said Sunday that a refusal by Mitterrand to sign the privatization decree would damage relations between Mitterrand and Chirac's government.
Earlier this month, government spokesman Denis Baudouin said, "If he does not sign we cannot force him to but this would be a crisis."
Mitterrand's statement Monday follows an earlier warning that he would reject decrees covering the privatization of firms nationalized before the previous Socialist government came to power in 1981.