Leading Article: The Currency Question Is Not Spent
You almost certainly did not notice, but yesterday was Europe Day, celebrating the anniversary of the historic speech in 1950 in which the French statesman Robert Schuman proposed an integrated European coal and steel community. The French, ever enamoured of the stylish gesture, marked the occasion with much trumpeting of the brave new euro, with blue and gold Europe flags festooning Paris buses and even free Euro-drinks at a generous bar in Chambery. Instinctively more pragmatic, Britain took a less spectacular approach, as Mr Blair held talks at Downing Street with the Dutch Prime Minister, Wim Kok, the most likely broker of a deal between Britain and its partners at the forthcoming Amsterdam summit. But the cause for rejoicing is no less. Labour's victory has brought us in from the European cold, and for the first time in ages eyes across the Channel look to this country with fascination, hope and - dare one say it - admiration. As the rush of local claimants to the Blair mantle in France, Germany and beyond shows, the election result has the potential to revitalise and reshape the European left.
Unlike Bill Clinton, who occupies a comparable place in the American political spectrum, but is shackled by Republican control of Congress, the Prime Minister's huge majority gives him a rare chance to forge a new brand of European centre-left politics. The first impact could be felt as soon as 25 May, in France, where President Chirac's gamble in calling early elections looks more perilous by the day. But the consequences might be even more momentous in 1998 in Germany, where Labour's success offers the Social Democrats something that has eluded them for 16 years - a formula for ending the rule of Helmut Kohl.
A fresh spring in the step is no less visible at the Foreign Office, long constrained to defend barren Tory policies which ran against every instinct of its soul, quite apart from rendering all but irrelevant the diplomat's cherished art of deal-making. "Nothing succeeds like political success in changing the dynamics of a negotiation," declared one jubilant official the other day as he surveyed the first 100 hours of Robin Cook's Foreign Secretaryship: "Domestic strength does mean foreign policy strength." We shall see. The new government's swift adherence to the social chapter of the Maastricht treaty notwithstanding, the changes thus far have been mood, not substance. Unarguably, however, the Foreign Office is back in business - and there is much business to be done. …