The Hundred and Two Ways

VIENNA: Across Europe the “third way” debate has become the only political game in town, the only hint at new directions in a rather confused multitude of trends and ideas. The recent paper signed by Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder, entitled Europe: The Third Way (Die neue Mitte) begins with a bold statement: “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.”

It was perhaps unfortunate that this document was published a week before the recent European elections. Not only is it said to have created a certain amount of confusion, above all among German Social Democrats, but the European elections, whatever their shortcomings and limitations, allow us to check the statement of fact that “social democracy has found new acceptance.” The result of this check is telling. In six of fifteen EU countries, Social Democratic Parties had 20% or less of the vote (Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands), in two others (France, Luxemburg) 22% or 23%. In five further countries the vote for Social Democratic Parties was between 26& and 33% (Germany, Greece, Britain, Austria and Sweden). In Spain 35% voted for the democratic Socialists, and in Portugal 43%. In only four countries were Social Democrats relatively the strongest party, and this includes France where the fragmentation of the Right meant that Jospin’s Socialists (in themselves hardly unified) were strongest with 22%.

It is tempting to examine the real strength of the Social Democrats in European governments (where changes are imminent in Belgium and Luxemburg), for they had twice the present proportion of the popular vote twenty years ago. Social Democrats are distinctly minority parties in most European countries. Even in Britain, Blair’s deceptively large parliamentary majority is based on 43% of the popular vote. In terms of electoral analysis the real trend is towards non-traditional parties, many of which did not exist twenty years ago. In most European countries their vote adds up to more than the Social Democratic vote. In truth, voters are confused and uncertain, pulled hither and yon. It is hard to discern any real trend towards a new crystallization of electoral views.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.


Log in;
  1. An employee works at a chemical fiber weaving company VCG/Getty Images

    China in the Lead?

    For four decades, China has achieved unprecedented economic growth under a centralized, authoritarian political system, far outpacing growth in the Western liberal democracies. So, is Chinese President Xi Jinping right to double down on authoritarianism, and is the “China model” truly a viable rival to Western-style democratic capitalism?

  2. The assembly line at Ford Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

    Whither the Multilateral Trading System?

    The global economy today is dominated by three major players – China, the EU, and the US – with roughly equal trading volumes and limited incentive to fight for the rules-based global trading system. With cooperation unlikely, the world should prepare itself for the erosion of the World Trade Organization.

  3. Donald Trump Saul Loeb/Getty Images

    The Globalization of Our Discontent

    Globalization, which was supposed to benefit developed and developing countries alike, is now reviled almost everywhere, as the political backlash in Europe and the US has shown. The challenge is to minimize the risk that the backlash will intensify, and that starts by understanding – and avoiding – past mistakes.

  4. A general view of the Corn Market in the City of Manchester Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

    A Better British Story

    Despite all of the doom and gloom over the United Kingdom's impending withdrawal from the European Union, key manufacturing indicators are at their highest levels in four years, and the mood for investment may be improving. While parts of the UK are certainly weakening economically, others may finally be overcoming longstanding challenges.

  5. UK supermarket Waring Abbott/Getty Images

    The UK’s Multilateral Trade Future

    With Brexit looming, the UK has no choice but to redesign its future trading relationships. As a major producer of sophisticated components, its long-term trade strategy should focus on gaining deep and unfettered access to integrated cross-border supply chains – and that means adopting a multilateral approach.

  6. The Year Ahead 2018

    The world’s leading thinkers and policymakers examine what’s come apart in the past year, and anticipate what will define the year ahead.

    Order now