1997 News of the World, Europe
1997 News of the World
Eighteen years of Conservative rule ended in May when Tony Blair and the Labour Party triumphed in the British elections. Blair has been compared to Bill Clinton for his youthful, telegenic personality and centrist views. He has embarked upon constitutional reform aimed at decentralizing the U.K.; Scotland and Wales have elected this fall to form their own parliaments. Blair's controversial meeting in October with Sinn Fein's political leader, Gerry Adams, was the first meeting in 76 years between a British Prime Minister and a Sinn Fein leader. It infuriated numerous factions but was a symbolic gesture in support of the nascent peace talks in Northern Ireland.
Difficulties continue in smoothing out the single currency issue. Midyear meetings in Amsterdam confirmed the schedule for the so-called euro to be rolled out in 1999, but only countries that can meet the strict economic conditions will be permitted to participate. Both France and Germany will need to implement tough austerity measures to rein in budget deficits to less than 3% of gross national product, the level required to join the common currency. At the center of the debate is the philosophy of the euro: will it be rooted in Germany's emphasis on monetary stability or in France's drive to cut the ranks of Europe's 18 million unemployed? France's socialist government faced domestic pressure to increase capital expenditures in order to reduce the unemployment rate, rather than reduce spending to meet the targets mandated by the euro. Italy's government narrowly survived a crisis brought about by a debate on its budget, which had been dramatically cut to improve Italy's chances of joining the euro in 1999.