Leading Article: Don't Count on Splitting the Paris-Bonn Axis
WITH THE election of Gerhard Schroder as Chancellor of Germany, Europe's three biggest countries are now led by Social Democrat parties - a fact which Labour ministers have not been slow to point out. A new triangle of power, with Lionel Jospin in Paris, Schroder in Berlin and Blair in London, is ready to develop. Furthermore, as in the words of the British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, there is a chance of detaching Germany from such a close alliance with France and bringing it into a closer relationship with Britain.
Well, hold on a minute. The rejection of Chancellor Kohl after 16 years in power undoubtedly makes a difference. So does his replacement by a Social Democrat Party-led coalition. Germany is now, like Britain and France, headed by a politician who has virtually no direct memory of the Second World War. Their leaders are also all politicians essentially intent on replacing the previous hegemony of conservatism with a modernised, liberal-left politics that absorbs all the lessons of Thatcherism but softens them with kinder words.
But there the similarity ends. Blair took over a Britain largely Thatcherised but tired of her stridency and wearied by the fractions of a government that had stayed in power too long. Jospin and now Schroder lead governments where unemployment is high, recession a recent memory and moves towards a full, free market economy barely started.
For them, and their countries, the aim is still a delicate balancing act between the demands to ease the pain of change with the requirement to promote it. The consensus politics of Europe, with their awkwardly- balanced systems of presidential and parliamentary structures, and varying forms of proportional representation, may seem cumbersome to the British. .
In this process, a change of government in Bonn - soon to be Berlin - is welcome. …