Business Outlook: The 'third way' on jobs won't be easy

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The Independent Online
POLITICIANS always find it hard to resist the claim to have found peace where there was only discord, a "third way" between apparently divergent paths. That's precisely what Gordon Brown is about to do with his jobs summit this weekend, just as Jacques Chirac, the French President, did when it was his turn to host a similar summit two years ago.

The Chancellor insisted yesterday that the forthcoming meeting was not going to be a mere talking shop. He expected specific proposals for tax reform, a more active welfare system, better competition policies and more ideas for improving venture capital and entrepreneurship to emerge.

Mr Brown is certainly sincere. Let's hope he is right, too. But the omens are not favourable. President Clinton got into trouble for his triumphalism at last summer's G8 summit in Denver, boasting about the US economy's success even as security guards warned offended European delegates not to wander too many blocks in the wrong direction from the convention centre. Since then, the US jobs machine has gone into overdrive, with a record proportion of the American population now in work.

Meanwhile, France has introduced a compulsory reduction in weekly working hours, a mad idea that will destroy rather than create jobs, opposed by everyone - except for the millions of people who voted for the Socialist government last year. The single currency will help focus European minds on the need for economic reforms that will genuinely improve the jobs market. Mr Brown has a list of policy proposals as long as your arm to help them on their way. But even if all those at the jobs summit decide they like the sound of his "third way", he will find they are facing in opposite directions.

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