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Western Press Review: Economics In Europe; Crackdown In Belgrade

  • Don Hill

Prague, 4 February 1997 (RFE/RL) -- The World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, incites Western commentary on issues of European Monetary Union and the EU. Commentators also discuss the Milosevic administration's crackdown on demonstrators in Serbia.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: No one is confident that the Euro will arrive on time

Columnist William Pfaff, writing today from Davos, comments: "A year ago there was virtual unanimity in Western Europe on the inevitability of the common European currency. Today this is no longer the case. Or to be exact, there no longer is confidence that the Euro will arrive on time, on the terms now established."

Pfaff says the terms he refers to are those demanded by the German central bank, the Bundesbank. He writes: "A reasonable expectation is there will indeed be a Euro, but one under greater political influence than in the existing program." He concludes: "Good Europeans like to say that unification is like bicycling. If you don't keep going you fall over. But what if you have taken the wrong track and have run into a wall?"

LONDON INDEPENDENT: No person or bicycle embarks on a journey that has neither end nor rest

The paper's Europe editor Tony Barber reports today in an analysis that British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkin also challenges the bicycle simile. Barber writes: "In a speech notable for its attacks on several EU projects, Mr. Rifkind said Britain saw little need for the EU to take more decisions by majority vote rather than by intergovernmental consensus." Rifkind was speaking at the Swedish Foreign Policy Institute in Stockholm.

Barber says in his analysis: "His speech sounded more sceptical in tone than remarks which John Major made after hosting a Downing Street lunch yesterday for Alain Juppe, the French prime minister." Barber writes: "Challenging an image often conjured up by Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany, Mr. Rifkind said that some leaders acted as if the 15-nation group were a bicycle that must continue to move forward or fall over. This image was misleading, he said, because no person or bicycle ever embarks on a journey that has neither end nor rest."

FINANCIAL TIMES: How to fix the rules for converting currencies into the Euro?

Andrew Fisher, writing in an analysis in today's issue of the British newspaper, also perceives difficulties for the Euro. He says: "As preparations for European monetary union intensify, attention is turning to an issue that makes bankers recall past waves of currency speculation with a shudder -- how to fix the rules for converting currencies into the Euro. Should the conversion rate be based on the final working day of 1998, as an independent Brussels-based think tank proposes? Or would it be based on an average of the market rates up to Euro's scheduled start in 1999, as many economists believe?"

Fisher says: "If the wrong decision is taken, the ensuing currency speculation could jeopardize the chances of a smooth start to Euro."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Too much emphasis on common currency and not enough on political integration

Financier and euro-philanthropist George Soros tries his hand at futurism in a commentary in today's edition. Soros' vision is that the Euro will succeed, but not for the reasons assigned by present conventional wisdom. He writes from Davos: "The Europe of 2007 is larger, more united and more prosperous than could have been expected at the beginning of 1997. Its territory extends not only to Central Europe but also to the Baltic states. Not only does it have a common currency but also a common fiscal policy which serves two objectives -- to counter cyclical variations and to even out divergencies among individual states."

Soros asks, "How did this miraculous state of affairs come about?" And answers: "It all started in 1997 when the people of Europe realized that the future of the European Union was in danger. There was too much emphasis on the common currency and not enough on the political integration of Europe."


WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: There is a fear of violence, of a slide into anarchy, of a return to war

The paper raises the key question for Serbia in a headline today: "After Milosevic, Who?" But writes Neil King Jr.'s analysis offers no answer. King writes from Belgrade, "Consternation underscores a leadership gap that many here say is among Serbia's most perplexing problems. And it is a gap that could turn explosive were Serbia's delicate political scene to splinter into violence."

King says: "The relative calm that has marked 11 weeks of protest around the country ended abruptly in Belgrade Sunday and early (yesterday) when police beat protesters in the capital and used tear-gas and water cannon to break up demonstrations."

The writer says: "Those who hope to shuttle Mr. Milosevic from power know that they face an enormous task in dismantling a system where everything from bank loans to the evening news revolves around one man and his party." King writes: "Swept up in the revolt, the main opposition leaders now are struggling to patch up their own compromised pasts while fighting to corral the popular anger into a movement durable enough to outlast the country's present. It is proving a daunting task.

He concludes: "Mass crowds elsewhere in Eastern Europe ousted their communist leaders with little doubt that the next day would would be better. In Serbia, the desire is there, but so is the fear of violence of a slide into anarchy, even of a return to war."

LONDON TIMES: The greater the coordination of Western policies, the better

The paper editorializes today: "With water cannon, tear gas, and baton charges that have injured hundreds of peaceable Serbian protesters, Slobodan Milosevic has turned to his feared paramilitary police -- the last organ of authority on which he believes he can rely -- to manufacture a breakdown in public order. His purpose presumably is to give himself a pretext for declaring a state of emergency."

The newspaper opines: "What the West can do is to underline its support for democracy, as France is doing by extending recognition to the Zajedno opposition coalition and inviting its leaders to Paris, and to emphasize in deed as well as word that Mr. Milosevic is returning Serbia to international isolation. The greater the coordination of Western policies towards Serbia, the better."

LONDON TIMES: The mandate of a contested Belgrade city council has run out

Tom Walker writes today in an analysis: "A division is emerging in the Zajedno leadership, with Mr. (Vuk) Draskovic appealing to the rank-and-file and the more moderate Zoran Djindjic winning over middle-income Serbs who do not want to see the few gains they have made in recent weeks lost in a bloody clampdown."

Walker concludes: "Belgraders will continue their protests with whistles and flags, but the stakes are now higher. The mandate of the contested Belgrade city council has run out, creating a power vacuum for President Milosevic to declare a state of emergency and direct rule in the capital."