OPINION

What kind of Europe?

Analysts have stereotypically divided Europeans into two camps – those who advocate a loose unification of capital markets and a common market for goods and services, and those who seek to safeguard the continent’s much-cherished social model. For better or worse, the European Union has never quite resembled either of the two visions. Greece’s Socialist former prime minister Costas Simitis tried to embrace and import Tony Blair’s much-heralded Third Way. Simitis soon gave up, faced with resistance from his Socialist cadres as well as concerns that Britain’s premier was no more than a Thatcher in disguise. And yet Blair has never lost his socialist identity. He enjoys a fresh electoral mandate and appears to have good reason to leave Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown in his stead so that he can have plenty of time to deal with European affairs. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, by contrast, has every reason to feel uncomfortable over the early elections he called. French President Jacques Chirac has fallen into his own trap, after prompting quite a bit of schadenfreude from his interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy. In Italy, embattled Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is expected to be sidelined by opposition leader and former commission president Romano Prodi. For Blair, the EU is facing a crisis of political leadership, not of institutions. Greece’s conservative Premier Costas Karamanlis has avoided stepping into the debate. True, no wise leader of a small country would rush to express allegiance with one of the raging bulls. But it’s highly unlikely that Karamanlis would disagree with Blair’s manifesto, as unveiled in the European Parliament this week, either. «Of course we need a social Europe, but it has to be a social Europe that works,» Blair said. «Now, almost 50 years on, we have to renew and there is no shame in that. All institutions must do it and we can, but only if we remarry the European ideals we believe in with the modern world we live in,» he added. Karamanlis would find it hard to disagree.