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Western Press Review: The Amsterdam Summit Fails Expectations

  • Jolyon Naegele



Prague, 18 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - The late-night conclusion of the Amsterdam summit of EU leaders occurred as many European and US dailies were already going to press. Although some details of the conclusions are absent, a wealth of views on the lack of significant progress at the meeting occupies press commentary on both sides of the Atlantic today.

NEW YORK TIMES: the summit as 'theater of the absurd'

The New York Times' William Safire, in a London-datelined comment, compares the summit to theater of the absurd "as the elected leaders of... major nations - with such different national characters - meet in Amsterdam to put their thumbs in the leaking dike of European integration. Ludicrous pronouncements are made with straight faces. Germany says austere belt-tightening stability will be the order of the day, and they all sign that. Contrariwise, France says that public spending on job creation will come first, and they all sign that. Britain says we heartily agree with the opposite sides but will wait and see about giving up the pound sterling for that pretty new coin. Now they're all "waiting for euro."

Safire, in a reference to Samuel Beckett's play "Waiting for Godot," says: "Beckett's message is that what they are waiting for will never come. The euro, as a common currency that would force each nation to cede control of its affairs to a central bank, is doomed. But the face-saver will be the "soft euro," a tacit admission that the French will never let the Germans decide how the French live... the all-European currency, when it comes, will wind up to be a skinny snake wriggling through a wide tunnel."

Safire concludes, "to think that proud, free peoples will meekly give up control of their national economic life; to imagine that intelligent citizens will continue to swallow the contradictory soothing syrups spooned out by duplicitous diplomats; to lock in stresses that would escalate tensions into conflicts - that is absurdity beyond the imagination of playwrights."

BOSTON GLOBE: deep divisions among Europe's longtime allies

Elizabeth Neuffer writing from Berlin in The Boston Globe says "when Europe's leaders met in 1991 to sign the European Union Treaty in Maastricht, they envisioned a united Europe that would rival the United States, sharing defense, foreign and economic policies and held together by a single currency." But she says that it is "clear that their grand design for continental unity is causing deep divisions among longtime allies." She notes "the meeting was marked by disagreement over whether Europe needed common foreign and defense policies. There were quarrels over how to resolve unemployment. And most of all, there was feuding over the proposed single currency, the euro, scheduled to be inaugurated Jan. 1, 1999."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: grand visions stymied by disapproving leaders

John-Thor Dahlburg, writing from Amsterdam in the Los Angeles Times notes "the European Union, the world's largest trading bloc, agreed to change its charter so it can start negotiating to admit new members." But he says "grander visions, however, of the organization taking charge of the Continent's defense and foreign policy were stymied by some disapproving leaders, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair."

Dahlburg notes "twelve countries - Turkey, Cyprus, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Slovenia - have lined up to apply for membership, seeing the trade bloc as a quick route to prosperity and closer integration with the richer countries to the west." But he says the leaders were unable to agree on new voting procedures to give its most populous countries - Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Spain - greater say in deciding policy.

WASHINGTON POST: reforms more than modest than hoped for

Anne Swardson, writing from Amsterdam in The Washington Post says the summit participants' rewrite of the EU's basic operating rules was "more modest than they had hoped but is still designed to permit expansion of the Union to the countries of Eastern Europe early in the next century." She says that "among the questions ducked by the 15 national leaders was that of European defense. Facing a proposal to convert their own, largely toothless defense organization (WEU) into a real force operating outside NATO, they chose instead to merely explore it as an eventual possibility."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: with expansion, agreement's more difficult

Christopher Lockwood and Toby Helm writing from Amsterdam in London's Daily Telegraph comment that the small EU countries have "combined to frustrate another plan to 're-weight' voting rights in the European Council of Ministers, where large countries like Germany and Britain are systematically under-represented. Without re-weighting, no permanent deal on the number of European commissioners can be accepted. So Mr. Kohl's most cherished aim of all, to get the EU into shape for the early admission of the first wave of eastern European countries, has also failed."

The Telegraph comments :the problem is simply that as the European Union expands, agreement on anything gets more difficult. Each country arrived in Amsterdam with its own irreducible bottom lines, and maneuvering between them was harder this time than last. At Maastricht there were 12 members: now there are 15. In another five years, the plan goes, there will be perhaps 20, and perhaps 30 a decade after that. Decision making will run into the sand." The Daily Telegraph concludes "the Amsterdam Treaty was supposed to fix this problem. But it has already failed."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: lessons in how to compromise

In a similar vein, an editorial by Guenther Nonnenmacher in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says "the East European reform states want to participate in the West Europeans prosperity. There is no better means to this end than to be allowed to participate in the common market. Bringing them into the EU's decision making process is the best instrument to even out the shortcomings in the young democracies of Central and Eastern Europe and defuse nationalist tensions within and between these countries. They are not exactly overjoyed but make out as if they are satisfied since learning how to compromise is the order of the day." The Frankfurter Allgemeine editorial concludes "there is absolutely no better tested way for the plethora of nation states in Europe to learn how to live together in peace."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Policy subordinate to politicians' popularity

An editorial by Andreas Oldag writing from Amsterdam in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung says the summit "would have been a great success if chancellor Kohl had shown some enthusiasm before the conclusion. Oldag says "the decisive question is whether the Amsterdam Treaty is sufficient to make the EU fit enough to accept new members. Significantly, the EU heads of state and government from the start avoided setting concrete criteria for success or failure. It is clearly no accident that European policy has become subordinate to maintaining one's popularity. He concludes, the reform conference failed to live up to expectations. In the coming years, the EU will have to continue to agonize from one compromise to another. Now is the time to plan for the next round of reforms for reworking the Amsterdam Treaty to enable the admission of new members."
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