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Western Press Review: European, Monetary Union Meet The 'Market Left'

  • Don Hill



Prague, 3 June 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentators struggle today to put this weekend's election results -- and the resurgence elsewhere in Europe of what one writer calls the "Market Left" -- in the context of European institutions.

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The left is Europe's dominant political force

Staff reporters Thomas Kamm and Douglas Lavin state baldly in an analysis: "Europe has turned left."

They write: "With Lionel Jospin's appointment as French prime minister yesterday following the Socialist Party's stunning electoral victory, the left is undeniably Europe's dominant political force. The shift comes at a crucial time for the Continent as it enters the final phase of efforts to forge a common currency.

"Coming just one month after Tony Blair's resounding triumph in Britain, left-wing parties control or are part of 13 of the 15 governments in the European Union. Only Germany and Spain remain holdouts -- and many say Mr. Jospin's victory further weakens the embattled German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, ahead of next year's elections."

Kamm and Lavin write: "The wave portends a shift in Europe's political and economic agenda toward more emphasis on jobs and labor issues, which could weaken EU countries' resolve to tackle deep structural change in their welfare states."

WASHINGTON POST: Wishfulness won't repeal the new laws of global economics

The paper editorializes that left-leaning in the globalizing economy has inexorable unintended consequences. The U.S. newspaper says: "In today's world, technology and capital are increasingly mobile; businesses can set up shop wherever profits will be greatest. Not only can they; businesses that pass up opportunities -- out of loyalty to their home communities or countries, for example, or by order of home governments -- may soon be passed by. Thus, nations find their own political possibilities limited; if they set taxes high to fund a generous social safety net, businesses will move away, shrinking the tax base and requiring even higher taxes."

The editorial concludes: "No nation has come to satisfactory terms with globalization. Many Europeans would say that America, with its remarkably successful record of job creation, has sacrificed too much in the way of equality, social welfare and public infrastructure. But it is safe to say that wishfulness, which seems to be the underlying mood in the French electorate, won't repeal the new laws of global economics."



FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: This is a defeat for Chirac and Kohl

Hans-Hagen Bremer comments that by calling for early elections that his political allies could not win, French President Jacques Chirac may have scuttled the euro. Bremer writes: "Did Jacques Chirac intend to sabotage the euro when he dissolved the National Assembly and called new elections? The question may sound absurd. But had this been the French president's intention, then it would have been a complete success."

Bremer says: "The vote also expressed the expectations of another policy. The situation is reminiscent of 1981, when the French voted in Socialist leader Francois Mitterrand. At that time they hoped to be able to overcome structural changes in society caused by the shock of the oil crisis without having to tighten their belts further. (But) reality set in just two years later, and all governments since then, be they left or right, have pursued the same policy of budgetary stringency without being able to reap the rewards of more jobs."

He concludes: "This is not just a defeat for President Chirac but also for German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who can now no longer be certain of support for his Maastricht course from his most important European partner. (And) Kohl, whose position has already been weakened by the gold conflict with the Bundesbank, now finds himself out on a limb with his demand for strict fulfillment of the Maastricht criteria."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: Jospin's government is not notably anti-EMU

The paper says in an editorial that Euro-phobes may be premature in celebrating the demise of the euro. The newspaper contends that "the champagne has gone back on ice (with the realization that) M. Jospin's government is not notably anti-EMU in flavor." It says: "The French Left, indeed virtually all French politicians, want a 'euro for growth.' " The newspaper asks: "Will Mr. Blair use Britain's voice and veto to insist that the (Maastricht) treaty's criteria be observed? Or will he allow Europe to drift to an inflationary disaster?" It asserts: "That may be the first big test of his statesmanship."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Kohl has rightly made the single currency his overriding policy

In a commentary, Reginald Dale says that the squabble in Germany between the Kohl government and the Bundesbank may help Kohl in his dealings with the new France. Dale writes also: "The German government's badly explained plan to revalue its gold reserves to help the country qualify for the European single currency, the euro, has caused widespread confusion. The idea has provoked anxiety among supporters of a strong euro, glee in Italy and howls of rage from Germany's dour central bank, the Bundesbank. But the plan is not as shocking as its critics make out."

Dale writes, "Chancellor Helmut Kohl quite rightly has made the single currency his overriding European policy priority. (Since) the Bundesbank is, at least in principle, in favor of the euro, instead of creating unnecessary difficulties, it should be working hard to make the proposed new currency a success."

TIMES OF LONDON: People all over Europe are looking for new directions

Commentator Anatole Kaletsky contends that the French and British election results are misinterpreted by anyone who thinks they reflect a new passion for socialism among the voters. Kaletsky comments: "Democracy is not about electing good governments. It is about getting rid of governments that are incompetent, corrupt or oppressive. (Thus) the people of France did not suddenly fall in love with the same Socialists whom they crushed to a political rump in the general election four years ago."

He writes: "It is tempting to explain the French election result simply as a childish Gallic tantrum. Tempting, but wrong. What the French did on Sunday was very similar to what British voters did a month before, and what the French did to the Socialists themselves four years ago: they threw out a Government that had proved ineffective, arrogant and dishonest, in favor of an alternative which may or may not prove better, but could hardly be worse. The way political events are now moving in Germany, the next of these democratic revolutions could dethrone the uncrowned Emperor of Europe, Helmut Kohl himself."

The commentator concludes: "By forcing European nations to deflate their economies with high taxes and overvalued exchange rates, the Maastricht conditions have undermined hopes that more competitive markets and lower public spending would create prosperity and jobs. On the contrary,the more France and Germany have reformed their labour markets, the more they have found tight money and high taxes destroying jobs. It is hardly surprising, then, that people all over Europe are looking for new directions. The rational first step in seeking a new direction is to look at the people who were responsible for the old direction -- and throw the rascals out."
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