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German elections Tuesday, 29 September, 1998, 18:31 GMT 19:31 UK
The great European love triangle
Gerhard Schr¿der
Gerhard Schr¿der's victory could change the face of Europe
By Diplomatic Correspondent Barnaby Mason

German Elections
The German Chancellor-elect, Gerhard Schröder, is to visit Paris on Wednesday for talks with French leaders. But there are already signs of rivalry between France and Britain as to which will have the closer relationship with the new left-of-centre leadership in Bonn.

Mr Schröder has moved swiftly to reassure France that the passing of Helmut Kohl will not mean the dilution of the Franco-German alliance which has been the engine of European integration for more than 40 years. The relationship was irreplaceable, he said.

Kohl and Chirac
Kohl and Chirac: Great allies
But in recent newspaper articles, President Chirac has stated the need to renew and reinforce those ties. He said there was now even more reason for Germany and France to act together.

As early as Sunday night, Mr Chirac invited the incoming Chancellor to Paris, in an obvious effort to make sure that it was the first capital he visited after his election.

In the United Kingdom, rumours circulated that Mr Schröder would also travel to the Labour Party's annual conference in Blackpool to meet the Prime Minister, Tony Blair. That was an early sign that he too would lay claim to a special relationship with the new German leader, though British officials say of course that it would not be at the expense of the French.

Tony Blair
Tony Blair: New best friend?
The latest word from Downing Street is that a meeting this week is unlikely. We can however expect a revival of the manoeuvring that has long been a feature of relations between the three countries. Newspapers in Britain have painted a picture of Gerhard Schröder as a German version of Mr Blair.

'Equal rights for the British'

There is a worry in France that its alliance with and influence over Germany will weaken, especially after the seat of German government moves east next year from Bonn to Berlin.

The French newspaper, Le Monde, noted that the incoming Chancellor had spoken of widening the Franco-German alliance to include Britain - equal rights for the British was one phrase used by Mr Schröder.

Le Monde said the fear of some was that Germany would turn its back on the European project in favour of a free-market triple alliance of Washington, London and Berlin. But the situation is complicated by the fact that the French Socialists in power in Paris welcome the arrival of another left-of-centre government.

Le Monde concluded that Mr Schröder's election was a chance to be seized - the Left now governed nearly all of Europe, it said, and that must lead to a social compromise with the free market economy.

In this scenario, centre-left solidarity may lead to joint action to reduce unemployment and push for reforms of international financial institutions. There is talk of a new alliance of Britain, France and Germany - given the English acronym of the BFG, the Big Friendly Giant.

However, that in itself will provoke friction:.Italy, for one, always complains at the idea of that particular Big Three running Europe, however friendly they are.

See also:

28 Sep 98 | German elections
28 Sep 98 | German elections
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