Amsterdam summit: Bonn banks on London's driving force

Germany's chancellor-in-waiting yesterday endorsed Britain's claim for a place at the top table of Europe, declaring that the beautiful relationship between Bonn and Paris was dead.

Gerhard Schroder, the opposition politician expected to challenge Helmut Kohl in next year's elections, said: "The days when the French President and the German Chancellor could decide everything that went on [in Europe] are over.

"The Franco-German axis must be transformed into a triangle involving London."

Mr Schroder, a Social Democrat very much in the Blairite mould, said he expected Britain to be the driving force behind a "renaissance" of European politics. In an interview with the financial daily Handelsblatt, he welcomed Britain's renewed interest in Europe, and aligned himself with London's prescription for tackling mass unemployment.

On this, as on many other issues, Mr Schroder is closer to the views of the German government than to his own party, which even yesterday was urging a vast Europe-wide spending programme to fight joblessness. "I have difficulties with the idea," said Mr Schroder, "that we here in Germany can implement a publicly funded job-creation programme, the way Jospin is planning to do it in France."

But while differences persist over job creation, even the left wing of Mr Schroder's party has realised the proposed EU-wide job creation schemes would have to be financed by Germany. And whatever their sentiments on the euro, all German parties have been horrified by what they see as French attempts to undermine the stability of the common currency.

Mr Schroder's suggestion that the marriage of convenience between France and Germany should give way to a menage a trois is certain to be well received in Bonn. Though German ministers have refrained from commenting on recent goings-on in Paris, the frown on Mr Kohl's face as he met French colleagues last week spoke for itself.

For the past years, the two countries had worked hard cobbling together a common draft for the revised Maastricht Treaty. For France to have threatened to veto that now amounted to a stab in the back.

Getting London involved would free Germany from the shackles of its untrustworthy friend, but it would have to be handled with sensitivity. Italy has already complained that there are not three but four big players in Europe.

Some deal will have to be found, partly because Germany dreads being left alone, but mainly because London's and Bonn's interests overlap. As recent event have shown, they already have much in common. After Amsterdam, the focus of reform will shift to the decision-making process, where both Britain and Germany want to have a greater say in community affairs to the detriment of countries with smaller populations.

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