As European Socialists - in power almost across the Continent -
battle to modernize their movement, three skirmishes over the past
week have highlighted their problems in following a common "Third
Way," in the political style of President Clinton's New Democrats.
Three recent vignettes from the front: In Paris, Communist trade
unionists and members of the employers' federation both staged
rallies on Monday to attack the Socialist-led government's plans for
In Germany, the country's largest trade union launched its annual
convention on Monday with a demand for a lower retirement age that
would destroy the foundations of Chancellor Gerhard Schrder's budget
In Bourne-mouth, England, the most vocal opponents Prime Minister
Tony Blair had to deal with at his Labour Party's annual conference
were country-dwellers defending their right to hunt foxes.
In France, the pragmatic Premier Lionel Jospin is having to
navigate carefully between left and right; in Germany, Mr. Schrder
cannot ignore the power of traditional trade unions; only in Britain
can the government count on broad public support for its vision of
In the deepest trouble, as he struggles to build the "New Middle"
that he used successfully as an election slogan little more than a
year ago, is German Chancellor Schrder.
This autumn he and his Social Democratic Party have suffered a
string of humiliating defeats in state and regional elections,
sometimes garnering only half the support they won a year ago.
Violent struggles within the ruling party, between its left and
right wings, and spats with the environmentalist-oriented Greens,
their coalition partner, have left the impression of a floundering
and directionless government.
"It is not clear exactly what Schrder's vision is," says Anke
Hassel, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute, a Cologne-based
think tank. "There is a contradiction between what he says and what
'Vision' falls short
The vision should have come with a joint declaration Schrder
issued with Mr. Blair in June, titled "Europe: The Third Way, Die
Neue Mitte." The statement called on the two leaders' European peers
to deregulate markets, cut taxes, and hold down public spending. The
spirit behind it was the one that has moved the British Labour Party
since it took office two years ago - to broaden individual
opportunity, rather than to guarantee social protection from the
But this enraged the left wingers in Schrder's party, who had
scarcely been consulted. The attitude also perturbed voters.
"Schrder's dilemma is how to mobilize old Social Democratic voters
and the New Middle at the same time," says Christoph Strnck, a
ruling party adviser.
At the same time, predicts Dr. Hassel, "the trade unions are
going to be an obstacle" to Schrder's hopes to streamline the German