GLOBAL ECONOMIC VIEWPOINT
Anthony Giddens is director of the London School
LONDON -- The recent string of election defeats for Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democratic Party in Germany has been interpreted by some as a backlash against the idea of a ''third way'' or ''new middle'' for Europe as outlined by Chancellor Schroeder and British Prime Minister Tony Blair in their joint statement during the summer. To my mind, such a view is mistaken.
Surely, it is very difficult to change a conservative
And, no doubt, bickering between Schroeder's new Social Democrats and the ''old left'' of Oskar Lafontaine -- the former party leader and Schroeder's first finance minister -- contributed to the election defeats. In the case of the United Kingdom, the debate between the old left and the modernizers took place and was resolved within the party before the advent of New Labor taking power, not afterward, as we see now in Germany.
Moreover, no other leader in the Western world has the same degree of internal command that Tony Blair has had in the United Kingdom. They are all in coalitions. Even Bill Clinton is hobbled by Republican conservatives that control the U.S. Congress.
But the third-way approach to politics is not losing
in Europe; it is
The third way is not one model that fits all. It is not just an attempt to import ''Blairism'' into the heart of Rhineland capitalism. It is the attempt of social democracy to modernize itself in relation to the new, dominant influences in our lives -- globalization and the information revolution.
Globalization is not just an intensifying of world economic
This framework applies to Germany as much as anywhere else. The ''third way'' calls for a thorough going modernization of the major institutions of society. That is why, in the joint statement of Blair and Schroeder, the ideas of devolution of power, personal responsibility as well as community spirit, welfare to work programs, investment in education and the stimulation of innovation and venture capital throughm ''reducing the tax burden on hard work and enterprise'' were all emphasized.
In their statement the two leaders declared that, in
It is all well and good for ''the heart to beat on the
From around continental Europe, a number of streams
flow into the ''third way'' effort to adapt to globalization. I think
of what has been happening in Denmark with its ''welfare to work'' schemes
(which parallel British and American programs) or Holland with its ''spreading
of work'' and ''wage restraint for jobs'' policies. Even in
All center-left governments of Europe have given up their traditional hostility to markets while, at the same time, embracing the idea that there must be new regulations on international currency flows and global companies. All the social democratic leaders of Europe have a similar interest in forging a new model of responsible capitalism because they know there is no alternative to a global market economy.
This is also true at the level of the European Commission.
All of these policies contribute to the project of how
Some critics have argued that Anglo-American culture,
Certainly, the individualistic, free enterprise culture
Third-way changes elsewhere will likewise reflect the national culture. The Danish and Dutch reforms, for example, have been accomplished through intensive negotiations among labor, government and employers rather than through summary deregulation. This more cooperative weaning away from corporatism is a completely legitimate ''third way'' path. Germany is not likely just to move to an Anglo-American model, but take an approach more similar to Holland and Denmark.
The key issue now for the left in Germany is how to develop a more robust account of social justice and equality as part of third way politics. For example, in Germany, as elsewhere, there must be a recognition that the old welfare state mechanisms often stand in the way of greater equality rather than helping to realize it because patterns of inequality are different than in the past, now having more to do with skill and knowledge levels of the work force than ''exploitation by capital.''
Social democratic governments across Europe would also do well to take a leaf from Clinton and Blair on the problem of crime. By and large, they have not done a very good job of multicultural integration and have deferred the crime issue to the future, when inequality would somehow be reduced. The personal safety of citizens thus must be a key issue of the left in the here and now or it will only bolster the fortunes of the new right.
It will be a difficult road, but the project of reconciling the traditional left and the modernizing left is central now all across Europe.
Despite the election setbacks, Chancellor Schroeder needs to press on, confident in the correctness of pursuing a politics of the ''new middle.'' Giving in to the inertia of interest groups who wish globalization and the information technology revolution would just go away will do nothing to prepare Germany or the rest of Europe to live in the times ahead.
(c) European Viewpoint/El Pais. Distributed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate
For Immediate Release (Dist. 10/13/99)