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World Leaders Meet To Discuss The Third Millennium

Leaders from Brazil, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the United States, will meet in Florence this weekend to challenge each other over how best to reform their societies for the third millennium. John Howard reports.

The leaders will seek answers to global challenges raised by new technologies and reforms of costly welfare programmes without sacrificing the fight against poverty.

The summit, Saturday and Sunday will also be attended by Spain's Javier Solana and EU Commission president Romano Prodi.

Lionel Jospin (France) is expected to defend his Socialist Party's vision of "modern socialism" for a "more humane society."

Last month French Socialists said they recognised the days of the state-run economy were over, but believed that with "new age" capitalism on the march, it was up to the left to contain the market and reduce social inequalities to build a society of well being. Corporate governance is out, they said.

Jospin's views differ from policies dear to his British and German counterparts who have drawn a line under traditional left-wing politics in a "Third Way" manifesto.

That document urged centre-left parties to reform the welfare state, adopt flexible labour markets, cut public spending and assume an overtly pro-business stance in formulating policy.

Jospin's aides said there was no way one could lecture the other at the Florence meeting, which was rather designed to allow a fruitful exchange of ideas, as each leader came with his own history, national realities and ideological references.

Brazil's Cardoso cautioned that "there are no models for the left, if such a schematic division between right and left now exists or makes any sense at all today."

"Actually, I do not believe that Blair's Third Way is very different from Jospin's socialism. Each government must simply adapt to its own national situation and find its own path," Cardoso said.

In Berlin, government officials said debates would focus on how best to alleviate tensions created by globalisation.

Clinton's political advisor, Sidney Blumenthal, said there would be no written final declaration but all leaders would embrace a common principle. How to dovetail economic growth with development would be one of the main points on the conference agenda on Sunday.

Two seminars, also on Sunday, will address "The new economy: equality and opportunity" and "Democracies in the 21st Century: values, rights, responsibilities."

The weekend summit is organised by the European University Institute and the New York University School of Law.

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