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Western Press Review: A Europe Beset By Problems

  • Don Hill



Prague, 9 June 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentary in recent days reaches a consensus that European nations, and Europe itself, are beset by problems. The consensus fails, though, on what the problems are and how they chould be addressed.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Misplaced faith in the Euro

Tony Judt, writing over the weekend in the International Herald Tribune, commented that some European leaders have adopted a misplaced faith in "the goal of uniting Europe around the euro, the common currency envisaged under the Maastrich treaty. (That goal) has been revealed as politically unattainable." Judt is director of the Remarque Institute at New York University.

In the commentary, Judt wrote: "The criteria under which member states are allowed to join the monetary union -- notably the requirement that their annual budget deficit not exceed 3 percent of gross domestic product -- were arbitrarily set nearly six years ago and represent an unrealistic and excessive concern with monetary stability."

He said: "Furthermore, the race to the euro has encouraged political dishonesty and bad faith among the European member states. To qualify for membership in their own club, the French and more recently the Germans have attempted budgetary sleight of hand -- the French by mortgaging state pension plans and the Germans by unsuccessfully trying to revalue their central bank's gold reserves. This has soured relations with smaller nations like Spain and Italy, which the Germans have sanctimoniously lectured on the virtues of financial stringency. As a result, the move to a closer monetary union actually is driving Europeans farther apart."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Time for Germans to close ranks.

In Friday's Frankfurter Rundschau, Rolf Dietrich Schwarz denounced "one-sided interpretation of the Treaty of Maastricht as a Europe of money and not a Europe to help the unemployed." He commented: "A messiah-like mixture of individualism, privatization and deregulation has proved to be just as unmodern as the Keynesian ideas of huge government-led economic stimulation."

Schwarz wrote: "Finance Minister Theo Waigel has just been defeated in his battle to revalue Germany's gold reserves with the country's central bank, the Bundesbank." He said: "Record German unemployment figures as just announced for May would have been inconceivable at one time. But such bad news has become routine in Germany and the political agenda simply moves on, preparing to meet the next setback. The contradiction between political promises of tax cuts and constant tax increases, and announcements of budget consolidations and constant gaps in the actual budget, would have been the finish even of a socialist head of government. But for Germany's ruling conservatives and liberals, these are reasons to close ranks."

LONDON FINANCIAL TIMES: Twin earthquakes in France, Germany

Under the ironic headline "New Europe" today, The London Financial Times in an editorial (F807) calls the outcome of last week's French elections and the German government-central bank confrontation "twin earthquakes." "It is still too soon," the newspaper says, "to measure (their) effects." It goes on: "Certainly they both have severely damaged the authority of the top ppolitical leaders in Europe's two leading powers."

The editorial says that there are contradictions in France and Germany between the government leaders' positions and their governments' behviour. It concludes: "It is getting hard to see how there contradictions can be resolved without postponing the deadline. (German Chancellor Helmut) Kohl appears to think it morally impossible for Germany to propose that, but perhaps if France were to do so he would gratefully accept."

NEW YORK TIMES: Time for candid politicians

Writing Saturday in The New York Times, Warren Hoge said in a news analysis that Britain's recently-named prime minister is offering counsel to other European leaders from a position of strength. The advice is to be candid with your people, Hoge wrote. He expressed it this way: "Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, on his third European excursion in two weeks, brashly counseled a gathering of the continent's socialist leaders in Sweden on Friday to discard dogma "or die" and told Chancellor Helmut Kohl in Bonn, Germany, that the European Union was out of touch with its own people."

Hoge wrote: "In a clear and direct reference to the German government's botched attempt last week to revalue its gold reserves in order to ease its way in meeting the fiscal requirements of European Monetary Union, Blair said Friday, 'EMU cannot work if it is set up on the basis of a fudge. Whether it looks like a weak currency or a strong one, if it masks unreformed economies, the strains in the system risk being too great.' "

The Times writer said: "In adopting such an aggressive approach as a newcomer, Blair clearly is capitalizing on his image as a vigorous new leader and vote-getter and on European leaders' relief at not having to deal anymore with his predecessor, John Major, whom they viewed as distant and uncooperative."

PHILADEPHIA INQUIRER: The Right Wing's worst nightmare

Europe's apparent turn to the left in fact is not what it seems, Fawn Vrazo contended in a news analysis in The Philadelphia Inquirer Saturday. She wrote: " 'C'est la Gauche!' -- 'It's the Left!' gloated the Communist paper L'Humanite. And yes, it did seem as if the European right-wing's worst nightmare had come true."

Vrazo said: "While it might strike Americans that there is indeed a big political shift going on, however, that's not how it looks from here. In fact, European political experts, pressed to cite connections between the left victories in France and Great Britain, see practically no connections at all -- and therefore don't perceive Europe as being swept by a great liberal trend."

She said: "The new Socialists of France have also promised to do all they can to help small businesses. They do not plan to re-nationalize privatized companies. And they support Europe's biggest capitalist venture of all - the creation of a single European currency, the euro, and a European monetary union mainly designed to give some serious business competition to Asia and the United States. So it's the left, but not as we knew it."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The Right is in Disarray

William Pfaff wrote in a commentary published Saturday by the International Herald Tribune that Europe's right truly is in disarray. He said: "During the later 1980s and in the 1990s, market and monetarist thought hardened into an intolerant ideology, promulgated as appropriate to every circumstance and every time. This was quite untrue."
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