By Don Hill/Esther Pan/Alexandre d'Aragon
Prague, 1 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- For many years, the EU -- European Union of 15 member states -- has seemed a rumbling monster, harder to turn in its course than an old battleship in an Atlantic storm. This week, however, it is moving sharply toward historic sea-changes: Expansion of membership into southern and central Europe, and establishment of a single European currency, the euro. Western press commentary takes note.
FINANCIAL TIMES: Europeans tell skeptics enough already
In the British newspaper Financial Times today, "European Viewpoint" columnist Lionel Barber comments, "This week, the Europeans declared: 'Enough, already,' " to diehard euroskeptics. Barber writes: "The occasion was the opening of negotiations on membership for former communist countries of central and eastern Europe, plus Cyprus." He says: "Enlargement will stretch well into the next century. There will be terrible rows over Bulgarian cherries, Czech apples and Polish potatoes. And remember: the EU has still to come to an agreement over the cost of enlargement and the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. But no one should ignore the dynamic impact of enlargement on the Union, nor the fact that enlargement is the best advertisement for the EU's fledgling common foreign and security policy."
LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: Rhetoric gives way to bargaining
An analysis in today's Daily Telegraph, London, says the "rows" Barber mentions already have begun. It says: "The European Union's newly launched enlargement process hit immediate difficulty yesterday when a proposed blueprint for farm reform was rejected by agricultural ministers. Grandiose rhetoric about the historic challenge of expansion into central Europe suddenly gave way to hard financial bargaining and aggressive defenses of farmers' interests."
LE SOIR: Europe unites in historic moment
Emphasis early in the negotiations was heavy on place in history, Andre Riche commented yesterday in Belgium's Le Soir. He wrote: "There were 26 at the table yesterday morning at the Council of Ministers of the European Union. And, befitting their roles, they qualified the moment as historic. Historic because they were working officially to launch the largest enlargement process ever undertaken by the European Union, declared Robin Cook. Bronislaw Geremak, eminent former Solidarity member and now foreign minister of Poland, responded that Europe was in the process of uniting itself."
STUTTGARTER ZEITUNG: Germanys policy far from unified
The Stuttgarter Zeitung says in an editorial today that Germany's historic vision is clouded by pragmatics. It says: "Germany, which has so far praised the idea of keeping the door open for its eastern neighbors, will have to decide, in the parliamentary elections in September, what it really wants. So far Germany's Europe policy has been in opposition to itself: on one hand, the often stated theory that accession should be proceeding efficiently. On the other hand, the Agriculture Minister (Jochen) Borchert is strongly against every reform of the agricultural subsidy. If Finance Minister (Theo) Waigel then appears and energetically demands that the German contribution to Brussels be lowered, the question must be asked, how can the government call its policy unified."
DRESDNER NEUESTEN NACHRICHTEN: Will to take in new members differs from readiness to share
From Dresden in the former East Germany, the Dresdner Neuesten Nachrichten editorializes on the policy gap. It says: "Both EU undertakings, monetary union and expansion, are not exactly bringing
joy. Many citizens are skeptical. (They) doubt that the European Community is adequately prepared for the euro or for the new houseguests. There is a large gap between the declared will to take in new members and the readiness to share with them."
LOS ANGELES TIMES: Finland to Canary Islands will be using same currency
Writing from Brussels over the weekend in an analysis in the Los Angeles Times, John-Thor Dahlburg found cause for optimism about the euro. He wrote: "A year ago, there were as many skeptics as believers when it came to Western Europe's plans for a single currency. But thanks to astute political compromising and the will of governments to pursue policies of fiscal austerity -- plus a little creative accounting in some places -- it now appears certain that the new money, to be called the euro, will arrive on schedule. In less than four years, 290 million Europeans, from reindeer herders north of the Arctic Circle in Finland to sun-hungry vacationers in the Canary Islands of Spain, should be using the same money for all purchases. Francs, marks, guilders, shillings and other national currencies will be phased out, to be replaced, starting January 1, 2002, by euros. Consumers are supposed to benefit from easier cross-border shopping and an end to currency exchange fees. According to one French study, a tourist who now sets out with 1,000 dollars and changes the money to local currencies in all 15 European Union countries ends up with just 500 dollars despite having bought nothing. (Last week), the trade bloc's bureaucracy, the European Commission, endorsed 11 candidates: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. The betting now is that all will make it, despite Italy's debt load, which is more than twice the maximum allowed for euro qualification."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Dark message from German central bank
But in the International Herald Tribune today, John Vinocur says the Bundesbank is subtly hedging that betting. Vinocur's analysis says: "The long-term message from the German central bank's report on the future of Europe's planned Economic and Monetary Union seems much darker than its statement last week that introducing a single European currency next year appears justifiable." Vinocur writes: "Standing back from what it stresses is a start-up decision by politicians rather than economists, the Bundesbank says that most of the 11 countries that will form the EMU are inadequately prepared to live up to the stability criteria that are to regulate their economic performance beyond the introduction of the single currency, the euro."