Europe After Kohl

It's fitting that most of the shouts and comment accompanying Germany's changing of the guard invoked the name of defeated Chancellor Helmut Kohl before turning to that of winner Gerhard Schrder.

Kohl was both prosaic and a colossus. He joins the visionaries who helped rebuild and shape postwar Europe: Churchill, deGaulle, and Kohl's own idol, Konrad Adenauer. Like the first two, he has had to be pushed off the stage after long years of extraordinary influence.

Three "new socialists" now will run Europe's most powerful, core states: Germany, France, and Britain.

Each - Britain's Tony Blair, France's Lionel Jospin and Schrder - presents a different political persona. But all three have set themselves the Clintonesque task of moving leftist parties toward the vote-rich political center.

In part this is a matter of competing in a rapidly changing world economy, where cheap skilled labor has become even cheaper because of the developing world's economic plunge. In part it shows the collision between the costs of the welfare state and the rising worker taxes needed to support it. Those taxes become an even heavier burden when more than 10 percent of workers are jobless, as has been the case in France and Germany.

Sweden's recent election rebuke to socialists should remind "new socialists" Schrder and Jospin of their problem: Providing huge numbers of jobs won't happen without business growth. And to compete and grow, businesses will require reining in of generous fringe benefits.

The influence of Thatcher-Reaganism on New Democrat Clinton and New Labourite Blair has been widely noted. "New Centrist" Schrder will feel similar pressure to deliver a diluted Thatcherism disguised with populist rhetoric. That will raise questions of slickness about the ambitiously cryptic Schrder, like those that have dogged Mr. Clinton.

But Germans should not vote and then shrug. They must hold their new chancellor to his promise to provide jobs, lift Germany's east, and continue Kohl's historic push to unite Europe's economies. Only thus will a facile politician become a statesman.

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