If the image that emerged from the ballot boxes yesterday is any indication, Western Europe is heavily committed to driving down the middle of the road.
Of the 410 deputies in the first popularly elected European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, only 43 will be Communists and 110 Socialists.
The parties of the center-right that are dedicated to furthering European unity will have 209 seats - 106 Christian Democrats, 63 Conservatives and 40 Liberals.
Even among the Socialists, it would be misleading to classify the 35 West German Social Democrats, the 13 Italians and the 16 Dutch and Belgians as leftists dedicated to the destruction of capitalism. Quite the contrary.
The 24 Italian Communists will be an interesting case study. They have been saying for some time that they feel closer to the West German Social Democrats that to their French Communist comrades with whom they will share benches in Strasbourg.
Sergio Segre, the Italian Communist Party's liaison to West German Socialist Willy Brandt, said recently: "In the European Parliament, our role will be to seek the broadest agreement on concrete problems. There will be differences, and they will cut across each of the groups. No one should be surprised or uneasy . . . We will work for a great historic goal - to build the unity of the European movement, whose true expression is often found in the Socialist or Social Democratic parties."
The major European parties that did most poorly in the four main countries - Britain, France, West Germany and Italy - were the ones that displayed their hostility to the European idea, notably the British Labor Party and the French Gaullists.
Claude Cheysson, a French Socialist who is a member of the European Community's Executive Commission in Brussels, blamed the poor showing of the European Socialists on the British Labor Party.Saying that they had made "a ridiculously small effort in the campaign," Cheysson asked, "Do they belong to Europe or don't they? Are they against the democratization of the community?"
More likely, their tactics reflected the general British indifference toward Europe, which translated into a 32 percent voter turnout.
The Conservatives got 51 percent of that vote and walked away with 60 of Britain's 81 seats, leaving 17 for Labor, which got 33 percent of the vote. The Liberals, who got 13 percent and not seats, said they would stage a protest by sending the candidates to Strasbourgh who would have made it if only Britain had voted by proportional representation - like the rest of the European Community - instead of by districts in the British tradition.
In France, Gaullist leader Jacques Chirac may have to pay with his political career for so disastrously misjudging the mood of the French voters. Former Gaullist prime minister Jacques Chaban-Delmas, now president of the French National Assembly, called a meeting for Tuesday of all the Gaullist Cabinet ministers in the government of President Valery Giscard d'Estaing and several other key Gaullist moderates. The man who has served as Chirac's main political strategist, Pierre Juillet, submitted his resignation today as a Chirac political adviser.
The unrepentant mayor of Paris quoted Charles de Gaulle to justify the party's decline from 22.6 percent of the vote last year to 16 percent yesterday. Chirac, whose hopes to unseat Giscard in the 1981 presidential election probably now have faded, quoted De Gaulle as saying: "Service to the nation cannot be rendered without disturbing public opinion or even losing in elections."
French Socialist leader Francios Mitterand conceded that "it is not without importance that Mr. Giscard d'Estaing now for the first time controls the majority of his majority."
The Giscardists are mounting a drive to capitalize on the number one place of their slate led by Health Minister Simone Veil, with 27.6 percent of the vote. They are campaigning behind the scenes to rally the center right parties in the European Parliament to unite behind her candidacy as president of the European Parliament.
She disclaimed any desire for the job, but Jean Lecanuet, the second person on her slate, spoke publicy of what a good president she would make, and there were clear signs that the government will push her forward.
A French political career that is probably in even deeper trouble than Chirac's as a result of the European voting is that of Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber, the maverick former publisher of the newsweekly L'Express. A slate that he advertised as "the fifth list," meant to split the Giscardist vote, got 1.8 percent of the vote, trailing badly behind the ecologist list and the Trotskyist list.
Servan-Schreiber was a voice in the wilderness saying that this new Europe had better start worrying about basic social issues like the growing unemployment all over the continent.
The West European majorities that chose the middle of the road this week were obviously not listening to professional gadfly Servan-Schreiber. But he raised an issue that seems bound to grow as economic conditions in Europe worsen under the impact of the energy crisis. If so, Europeans may find that the middle of the road is a dangerous place to be.