THE FRENCH Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, has rebuffed a declaration by Tony Blair and the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroder, calling on all European socialists to follow London and Berlin down the path to low- tax, "third way" enlightenment.
Mr Jospin, who claimed not to have been annoyed by the statement, said: "The French left, like France, imitates no-one. It expresses itself."
In fact, there is every indication that Mr Jospin, and the French left generally, were upset by the timing of the declaration, just before the European elections. They are also alarmed, and a little puzzled, by the implication that the new German government feels more comfortable ideologically with Blairism than Jospinism.
Mr Jospin's right-of-centre domestic opponents have been making hay with the Blair-Schroder doctrine, claiming that it proves their thesis that French socialism is stuck in the age of tax-and-spend dinosaurs.
Members of Mr Jospin's pink-green-red coalition have condemned the British and German leaders. Dominique Voynet, leader of the French Greens, said it was a "stab in the back". Both countries had signed up to a common, socialist platform for the European elections, which made no mention of the "third way", she said. They had no right to "betray" Mr Jospin at this time. The Communist leader, Robert Hue, also said the statement was a "serious blow" to the French Prime Minister.
The French socialists insist that the scarcely veiled Anglo-German criticism could be put to electoral advantage. In the European Parliament campaign, they have been attacked by the Greens, Communists and ultra-left as being too "liberal": it was useful to be accused of being too far to the left.
Mr Jospin was more direct in a campaign speech on Wednesday night. "Third way or new centre?" he asked. "No! I prefer to follow our path, the path of the modern left ... of growth, social progress and modernity."
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