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The Third Way and Liberty: An Authoritarian Streak in Europe's New Center

Courtesy Reuters

In many European countries, politicians are trying to go "beyond left and right" to a Third Way. Most of its protagonists have a close relationship to what in Britain is called New Labor, or sometimes, the "Blair project." In fact, the Third Way debate has become the only game in town -- the only hint at new directions for Europe's politics in a confused multitude of trends and ideas.

The recent paper signed by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, entitled Europe: The Third Way -- Die neue Mitte, begins boldly: "Social democrats are in government in almost all the countries of the Union. Social democracy has found new acceptance -- but only because, while retaining its traditional values, it has begun in a credible way to renew its ideas and modernize its programs. It has also found new acceptance because it stands not only for social justice but also for economic dynamism and the unleashing of creativity and innovation."

This document was published a week before the June elections to the European Parliament. Whatever their shortcomings, the European elections undermine Blair and Schroeder's assertion that "social democracy has found new acceptance." In 6 of the 15 European Union (EU) countries (Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Italy, and the Netherlands), social democratic parties had 20 percent or less of the vote; in two others (France and Luxembourg), they had 22 or 23 percent. In 5 further countries (Germany, Greece, Britain, Austria, and Sweden), the social democratic vote was between 26 and 33 percent. In Spain, 35 percent voted for the democratic Socialists, and in Portugal, 43 percent. In only 4 of these countries were social democrats relatively the strongest party -- and this includes France, where the fragmentation of the right allowed Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's Socialists (themselves hardly unified) to have the best showing with just 22 percent.

Twenty years ago these parties had twice their current support in Europe. Social democrats are distinctly minority parties in most European countries. Even in Britain, Blair's deceptively large parliamentary majority is

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