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Western Press Review: EU Constitution, Afghan Security, And Poland's Jacek Kuron

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 21 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Several items in the major dailies today discuss the agreement on a European constitution, reached early on the morning of 19 June after a sleepless night for EU delegates. Other issues addressed in the press include the "not insurmountable" task of establishing security in Afghanistan; the prosecution of Russia's oligarchs; and the death last week of Poland's Jacek Kuron, whom many credit with sowing the seeds of the collapse of communism with his famous 1964 critique of the party and the formation of his Committee to Defend Workers (KOR), the precursor to the Solidarity movement.

THE WASHINGTON TIMES

"The problem with the European Union is that Europeans have yet to feel unified," says an editorial published in today's edition. The results of the 13 June European Parliament elections "suggest that enthusiasm and influence have switched to Euroskeptic parties," which won a plurality in the parliament. And voters appeared to cast their ballots based on national, rather than European, issues. The paper says the "dreams of EU elites to fashion a European superstate in the mold of the United States appear as far away as ever."

The paper says it is not necessarily opposed to the creation of a European "superstate" and sardonically remarks that if "voters in EU member states decide that their welfare would be improved by relinquishing much of their national sovereignty, so be it." But last week's poll indicates something else. "Not only did Euroskeptic parties gain the upper hand in the parliament, but voter turnout reached its lowest level since direct elections were instituted in 1979." Smaller states are rightly concerned that ultimately, EU power will remain in a "Paris-Berlin-Brussels axis."

Last week's struggle to agree on a European constitution underscored the difficulties of reaching agreement in the new Europe of 25 member states. And the paper says, "[at] 200 pages and counting, the EU constitution is more an exercise in piddling legalities than in promoting the public welfare. While debating constitutional minutiae, European leaders should not ignore the fact that many Europeans simply do not understand how a superstate will benefit them, nor do they care very much."

The paper concludes: "Plowing ahead with fantasies of a continent united while ignoring national sovereignty [will] lead to failure."

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE

Author Masood Farivar, also of Dow Jones Newswires, says growing instability in Afghanistan "threatens to render the democratic process little more than symbolic" as the country prepares for elections in September. In fact, he says, "the elections should be postponed in favor of a stepped-up effort to improve the nation's security."

And yet, he says, contrary to widespread opinion, the task of establishing security in the country "is not insurmountable."

The Taliban "are indeed trying to forestall the September elections [and] destabilize the country." But while suppressing the Taliban insurgency is "critical," the United States "must abandon its single-minded focus on military operations." The Taliban maintain support in some southern regions of the country "because the region's residents have not benefited from their fall. Reconstruction is not happening, and the security situation has not improved there or elsewhere."

The warlords that are widely reputed to control much of the country are also not insuperable. Warlordism "is being encouraged by an overly cautious American policy -- based on the belief that trying to disarm the militias could provoke a military confrontation." In fact, says Farivar, "the warlords and their 'private armies' are not as powerful as they are made out to be." They only reestablished their power as the Taliban was routed by the U.S. invasion, and could easily be dismantled.

But the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) will have to be expanded, he says. Farivar suggests doubling its current size to a total of 13,000 or so troops. But this can only be done at the insistence of the United States, which now has "a window of opportunity" to ensure that Afghanistan no longer provides refuge to terrorists.

FINANCIAL TIMES

The paper's George Parker says the hard-won agreement on an EU constitution, reached early one morning among "discarded champagne bottles [and] exhausted officials," was Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern's "greatest political triumph." Ireland, currently the holder of the rotating EU Presidency, has overseen much of the wrangling over the constitution.

"The EU needs these moments of euphoria and historical hyperbole, those rare occasions when one can glimpse the sunlit peaks of European ambition through the fog of national rivalries and bureaucratic wrangling," Parker says.

But this "[does] not mark the end of the story for Europe's new constitution. Long after the detritus [is] cleared away, the question remains whether the constitution can make an enlarged Europe work. A second question is whether it will ever come into force."

The text now has to be ratified in all 25 member states, and many will hold national referendums on the issue. "It is clear that two years of hard political slog lie ahead," Parker says.

But in fact, the new EU document is not really a constitution, which is normally thought of as a contract between the government and the governed. It is more of a constitutional treaty, an agreement between 25 sovereign states. It is what Parker calls "a dense legal text, with simplicity sacrificed on the alter of political compromise."

Parker says the constitutional treaty "may be complex, unreadable in places, and flabby with compromise, but as a democratic undertaking by 25 sovereign states it is a substantial achievement, and proof an enlarged EU is not condemned to paralysis."

LE MONDE

The editorial in France's leading daily today says the agreement on a new EU constitution is "good news for Europe." The new text is historical, and likely to reinforce the European Union's coherence and its place in the world.

But this advance cannot eclipse the failure of the 25 member states to agree on appointing a new president of the European Commission. This shortcoming tarnishes the success of the constitutional treaty and confirms the deep and lasting differences that persist within the EU. The union of 25 is majorly divided, and its capacity for action is thus seriously curtailed.

The effectiveness of the constitution remains uncertain for three main reasons, the paper says. First, because it is still subject to being approved by national referendums. And judging by the apathy and Euro-skepticism of the 13 June EU parliamentary elections across Europe, winning this approval will be no easy matter.

Secondly, the divisions that became apparent over the lengthy negotiations on the constitutional text have left some lasting gaps, the paper says. Finally, in many aspects, the spirit of unity is generally on the decline in the European Union, which must now redefine its ambitions as a result. These lasting divides are the principle cause of Europe's weakness, says "Le Monde."

The reforms introduced by the constitutional treaty are far from negligible, however, and will ultimately make the EU more effective. But without the strong political will to overcome the divergences between member states, the new constitution, whatever its virtues, will not be enough.

THE INDEPENDENT

Columnist Bruce Anderson says the European Union would like to have emerged from its weekend negotiations convincing the world that the new EU constitutional treaty is a triumph. But there "is one fundamental objection to the new document," he says. "It is an outdated solution to the wrong problem."

Of course Europe needs rules, Anderson says. And with enlargement, "new and clear procedures were necessary to ensure that Europe would run efficiently."

But the new constitution "has nothing to do with any of [that]. There is nothing in it that would end the decade-long scandal of the EU's own court of auditors being unable to sign its accounts because of fraud and large-scale financial evaporation."

The new constitution also "gives the EU vague but extensive new powers over economic matters, social policy, criminal justice and defense." And it is reasonably certain "that the EU's institutions would be further strengthened, at Britain's expense." Anderson says, "Every time we have signed up to a European treaty, we have found ourselves committed to far more than we had expected."

The European Union "needed a loose regulatory framework for the single market. Within that broad structure there would be nothing to prevent individual states from negotiating bilateral or multilateral arrangements to pool sovereignty."

Instead, Anderson says, Europe now has a text that is "an attempt at coercion that is bound to founder on the rocks of popular will" when it is put to a referendum by member states.

LE FIGARO

The paper's Pierre Rousselin says the inability to agree on a new European Commission president to replace the outgoing Romano Prodi is a real pity, since one could have hoped that the agreement on an EU constitution would have breathed new life into the union as a whole.

At a crucial moment in the history of the European Union, no one has come forward to lead the EU executive branch. This is a distressing point, he says.

But let us recognize that perhaps this is not an enviable post, Rousselin says. Following the enlargement to 25 members, cacophony and chaos loom. Paris and Berlin agreed to back Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt -- but apparently, because he was the Franco-German choice, London had to disagree. The old divisions over the war in Iraq also emerged, once again dividing the continent into "Old Europe" and "New Europe," just when all had hoped this gap had been bridged.

But Rousselin says it is time to stop refighting the battles of last year and concentrate instead on the EU's shared future.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE

An editorial today discussing the death last week of Jacek Kuron calls him "an honest man who changed the world" and who "deserves more credit than most people realize."

Kuron "grew up a true believer in communism outraged by the injustices of People's Poland." And Kuron was "a true patriot." He published a 1964 critique of the ruling Communist Party along with Karol Modzelewski. His Committee to Defend Workers (KOR), formed in 1976 to defend the interests of strikers, became the precursor to Poland's Solidarity movement. The "paper calls Kuron "the intellectual and spiritual godfather of Solidarity" who provided the "experience and savvy that proved so critical" to the widespread strikes in August of 1980. "The seeds of communism's collapse were planted with the strikes that August," the paper says.

"To the end, Kuron was an honest politician of conviction. He remained an unapologetic leftist. As many revolutions, Poland's ate its children, too. Different people were called on to build the new Poland, and Kuron moved out of public life." But by then, " his life's work was behind him."

THE MOSCOW TIMES

As the case unfolds against Russia's richest man, former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii, and his business associate Platon Lebedev, Yevgeniya Albats says two possible outcomes are possible, one pessimistic and one optimistic.

The optimistic scenario assumes that the goal of Russian President Vladimir Putin "is to bring the oligarchs to their knees and force them to pay the state the difference between the real market value of their companies and the rock-bottom prices they paid during the murky privatization deals of the 1990s."

A more pessimistic scenario, Albats says, is that Putin's real aim "is to place control of the most important sectors of the economy -- oil and gas, metals, telecoms and so on -- in the hands of the state and/or Kremlin insiders." To make this redistribution less costly, " the value of major companies [can] be artificially driven down by jailing the current owners and through bankruptcy proceedings."

In assessing these two scenarios, Albats says the latter, pessimistic, one is more likely.

To ensure the loyalty of influential members of his support base, Putin "has been forced to cede both property and power to satisfy their ambitions." Moreover, allowing an amnesty for those benefiting from the lax privatization laws of the last decade "would lead to the rise of a powerful opposition pitted against Putin's bureaucratic state."

Albats writes: "It has become all too clear, even to outsiders, that Putin, not the courts nor the prosecutors, will decide the fate of Yukos and its former CEO." The optimistic scenario "would come as a pleasant surprise, but it would fundamentally contradict the system that Putin put in place during his first four years in the Kremlin."
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