Europe's leaders seek to define the third way

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The Independent Online
EUROPE'S LEFT has moved to bury its ideological rifts and to forge a new transatlantic political forum designed to reconcile its traditional support for the poorest on the planet with the benefits of economic growth.

Yesterday's star-studded seminar in the renaissance splendour of Florence's Palazzo Vecchio is to be followed by an even bigger event in Berlin, probably next March, which will try to develop a new set of "practical ideas".

There was general agreement that the left throughout the Continent is grappling with the problems of reconciling the creation of conditions for economic growth with adequate social protection.

Organisers studiously avoided mention of the "third way" concept which spawned the conference, although Tony Blair, its chief protagonist, used the term on several occasions.

Bill Clinton, the US President, Gerhard Schroder, the German Chancellor, Lionel Jospin, the French Prime Minister, Massimo D'Alema, the Italian Premier, and Henrique Cardoso, the Brazilian President, shared a platform to debate "progressive governance for the XXI century".

For proponents of the ill-defined third way, the event marked an important stage in its evolution, from a small caucus of believers into a generalised discussion with many strands. As some of the most powerful world leaders gather, a cartoon in Le Monde portrayed them, eyes closed, at a seance under the caption: "Is the spirit of the left out there?"