- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 7, 2002

ROAIX, Provence.—The balance of political power is changing in Europe, moving to the right slowly but surely. In the United States, little attention has been paid to this fact. Indeed, the European Union is often seen as an undifferentiated socialist mass governed by long-nosed bureaucrats in Brussels. If you look at Europe country by country, however, a different picture emerges, and one which should offer some encouragement to Republicans and conservatives in the United States. Furthermore, no matter how grand the plans of EU constitutional planners, the European governments still call the shots on the policies carried out in Brussels.

This could ease some of the tensions in the trans-Atlantic relationship, which had been exacerbated by the European reaction to the election of a Republican president in the United States. European public opinion will probably still have its virulent anti-American strains, and issues like Kyoto and the International Criminal Court will not go away. But at least on a government level the tone should change. Not having former French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine, author of the term "hyperpower," around anymore can only be a help.

In France, the last parliamentary election swept to power the conservative government of Jean-Pierre Raffarin, following the re-election of conservative President Jacques Chirac. After years of co-habiting with a socialist government, Mr. Chirac will finally be on the same page as the governing party in the National Assembly. This newly harmonious state of affairs follows a spring of dramatic French elections that gave the socialists a humiliating drubbing, and raised the specter of far-right xenophobic nationalism as a political force once again. The end result, however, was a victory overall for moderate conservatives.

New French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin has sounded rather more conciliatory toward the United States, emphasizing in a recent interview with the BBC the new government's good relations with the Bush administration and the importance of the U.S.-French relationship, dating back to the American and French revolutions. And he declined an offered opportunity to call the United States the "hyperpower."

The French election result follows center-right victories in other European countries. From Spain to Italy to Austria to Denmark to the Netherlands, center-right governments now hold power. And German voters, who will go to the polls in September, are widely expected to give a smart kick in the pants to Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. The Social Democrats now lag behind the Christian Democrats, led by Edmund Stoiber. Mr. Stoiber hails from Bavaria, Germany's most conservative region.

This is remarkable change. The decade of the 1990s was dominated by the so-called Third Way governments in Britain, Germany, France and Italy socialists or social democrats who tried to find a business-friendly way of keeping the European welfare state afloat. In the United States, President Clinton, a New Democrat, aspired to leadership of this new political philosophy. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the lone survivor of the Third Way devotees, remains in power largely because he has moved so far right from traditional Labour Party policies.

Skeptics like Czech President Vaclav Havel, who actually knew a thing or two about socialism, never believed the Third Way could work. It seems that the voters of Western Europe are now inclined to agree. Disillusionment combined with a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment has caused the tide to turn.

While European conservatives or Christian Democrats often do not match political definitions of free-market conservatism in the United States, being in many cases closer to moderate Democrats than Republicans, their re-emergence nevertheless could mean significant change.

French Prime Minister Raffarin last week announced a program of substantial tax cuts, tightening asylum laws, increased spending on defense and domestic security measures and cuts in spending on social services, as well as a program of privatization of state-owned enterprises. Air France is the first on the list. As if just to prove that political definitions are not particularly clear-cut in Europe, Mr. Raffarin is also planning to bolster the health-care system and shore up the French pension system.

In an interview that the International Herald Tribune published Monday, Italian Economy Minister Guilio Tremonti said that the new center-right governments should lose no time in acting to change European labor market regulations, effect tax cuts and deregulation, and create private pension funds. "Europe's governments must unite to push through these reforms and fast," he said. "This is a must. Otherwise, we will run out of time." For Europe's sake, one hopes they get their act together.

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