In the week preceding the European parliamentary elections, Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder produced a joint declaration, called “Europe, the third way, die neue Mitte” (the new middle), full of fashionable rhetoric about deregulation, reduced taxes and labor flexibility. It was no secret that this manifesto was intended as a sermon to their French partner, Lionel Jospin, who is allied with Communists and Greens in a “plural left” and does not sufficiently appreciate the virtues of the American model.
This preachment made amusing reading after June 13, when the voting in all fifteen member countries of the European Union revealed the catastrophic collapse of the ruling leftist parties. Whereas Jospin consolidated his position–the Socialists received 22 percent of the vote and the combined French left outpolled the right–Blair and Schröder were rivals as fallen champions. The German Social Democrats got 31 percent, compared with 41 percent in the general election last September, and the British Labor Party, which crushed the Tories two years ago, garnered 28 percent, to 38 percent for the Conservatives.
We should not read too much into these figures, because the turnout was so low. More than half the electorate did not bother to vote. Still, the elections to Europe’s Parliament are always a useful real-life reflection of public opinion in the member countries, and this time around they provided a snapshot of the political landscape of Western Europe after the war in Kosovo. During that conflict, the advocates of armed intervention proclaimed that the joint action would spark a European revival, a move toward unity and independence. For now, they said, the European nations would have to accept US leadership in Kosovo, but in the future they would add to the EU’s common currency a common foreign and defense policy, thus changing the world balance of power.
How phony such proclamations are was immediately demonstrated at the beginning of June, when the EU appointed its first coordinator of common foreign and security policies. The job went to Javier Solana, for the past four years Secretary General of NATO. If the intention had really been to reduce US domination, another candidate might have been chosen. The Anglo-German declaration mentioned above points in the same direction: If you extol the United States as a model, you are unlikely to fight with passion against American hegemony. The discourse about European independence is purely rhetorical. But the recent vote suggests that the Third Way itself–that is to say, the attempt to smuggle into Europe the US model in social democratic disguise–may prove more shortlived than it once appeared.
Still, if the European elections showed that the Third Way leads to a dead end, that does not mean that they indicated a different road, a radical alternative. Even though French Trotskyists will for the first time sit in Europe’s Parliament, Germany’s PDS (a party of ex-Communists) will make its debut there and, more significant, radical leftists will now account for about a quarter of Sweden’s representation, it is not the start of a new era. Voters disappointed with moderate leftists did not switch to radicals. They stayed home, allowing the right to win the day. This will not prevent the eleven Social Democratic governments from staying in office. But this European parliamentary election, unimportant in itself, is a warning to them, and to the left in general, that if they do not rapidly reduce unemployment, if they do not introduce policies really different from those of their conservative predecessors, their reign will be a brief interlude, and the right will soon return with a bang.