London the outsider in new alliance

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The Independent Online
EIGHTEEN MONTHS ago he was the golden boy of Europe's left. This weekend, when Tony Blair arrives at a summit in the Alpine resort of Portschach, he will play second fiddle to two newer stars on the European stage: Gerhard Schroder, Germany's Chancellor-elect, and Massimo D'Alema, the former Communist now leading Italy.

With 10 of the 15 European countries now run by socialists, celebrations should be in order. Instead, the new arrivals spell the end of Mr Blair's claim to the ideological leadership of the centre-left. That is moving to the left, leaving Britain behind.

In the four weeks since the German elections, hopes of a new British role at the centre of Europe have begun to sour. Mr Schroder had talked about opening up the Paris-Bonn axis to include London, but now reality has set in.

First there was the appointment of Joschka Fischer, from the Greens, as Mr Schroder's Foreign Minister. He has saidthat any attempt to widen the relationship with France to include Britain would be a "disaster" for the EU. Worse news was to come on the economic front, as Oskar Lafontaine, well to the left of Mr Schroder, emerged as a centre of power heading a revamped finance ministry with responsibility for European economic policy. This, allied to Mr D'Alema's new government in Italy, points to a more Keynesian style of economic management than is fashionable in Downing Street.

France, with its more interventionist premier Lionel Jospin, has new opportunities. Mr Blair has sought to woo Mr Jospin but with little apparent success. Mr Jospin, highlighting a new consensus with Bonn, said: "Europe has set itself the objective of stronger growth. This was the declaration of the person who will be the new German Chancellor and I am pleased about this."

So what are the chances now of Britain breaking into the Franco-German alliance? One Government insider said yesterday: "Formal triangulation is not something we are looking at." That is just as well, because facts speak for themselves: within three days of his election victory, Mr Schroder visited Paris. Mr Blair's first meeting with the German Chancellor-elect will be this weekend - in the company of every other European leader.

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