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Western Press Review: The German Mark Dies

By Esther Pan, Alexandre d'Aragon and Dora Slaba

Prague, 24 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Today's German language press is dominated by comment on yesterday's historic vote by the German Bundestag to approve the European single currency, the Euro. Other European papers voiced their opinions on the referendum in Kosovo, the prospects for a united European foreign policy, and the Belgian authorities' handling of the convicted child-murderer Marc Dutroux.

While many commentators saw the Euro vote as a victory for united Europe, there was also a sense that the debate was an opening salvo in the electoral campaign for chancellor.

FINANCIAL TIMES: The lower house of Germany's parliament signed the death warrant of the D-Mark

The lead story in today's Financial Times bore the headline "Kohl gains overwhelming support." Peter Norman writes, "The lower house of Germany's parliament signed the death warrant of the D-Mark yesterday when, in a historic vote, it authorized Helmut Kohl to approve its replacement by a new currency uniting 11 European nations...In a debate that ranged from high statesmanship to crude electioneering, a confident Gerhard Schroeder spoke in the Bundestag for the first time as the SPD's candidate for chancellor and staked his claim to make the euro a success after Germany's September 27 general election... Mr. Kohl, languishing in the polls and criticized for failure to give his quarrelsome coalition strong leadership, earned only respectful applause when he said the vote was the Bundestag's 'most important decision since unification' and 'one of the most important decisions of the century'."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Schauble proved himself on the political battlefield

In contrast, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung declared, "It was [CDU second-in-command Wolfgang] Schuable's day. Suddenly all the pressure of German domestic politics was on him, above all the internal fight that [monetary] union presents. And Schauble proved himself on the political battlefield. With visible pleasure he showed how easy it is to break Schroeder's spell - or rather, how easy it is for Schauble. He forgot none of the historic impact of the debate.; in many thoughtful sentences he made the deputies remember it. But he also succeeded in bringing his party to the forefront, and showing that [Schroeder] is vulnerable. Schauble can free the union (CDU/CSU) from its fearful paralysis."

NEUE PRESSE: Everyone agrees that without the common currency the possibility of political union would not have been achieved

The Neue Presse from Hannover commented: "The architects of the united Europe are doing everything they can to make sure there is no going back. Everyone agrees that without the [single currency] the possibility of political union would not have been achieved. With an eye on the vision of ending nationalism in Europe and of peaceful coexistence of peoples, it is perhaps not perverse to imagine the possibility of escaping the binding power of the common currency. It alone would not be enough: the experiment of Europe, of grafting (European) politics onto people, has already begun. Its successes and failures will not be decided only by the stability of the new currency. Constructive debate is necessary - over the proper way out of the job crisis, over the path to take for social stability as well as for an environmentally responsible and citizen-friendly Europe."

TAGESSPIEGEL: The euro debate has again displayed what Kohl has brought us by his eternal desire to hold on

From Berlin, the Tagesspiegel comments on Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the 71-year-old former foreign minister who is retiring this summer: "What a farewell. The Bundestag, moved and respectful, applauded Genscher's last speech in the Upper House. He was speaking on the theme to which he has made a great contribution - European Unity. A great farewell for a great parliamentarian. Helmut Kohl could have had the same. The farewell for the most prominent European would have been an even more impressive and historically more significant event. The whole House would have risen (except probably the PDS) to thank him for his great achievement. A pity for Helmut Kohl. A pity also for us, the electorate. The euro debate has again displayed in all its poignancy what Kohl has brought us by his eternal desire to hold on: the confrontation between the Chancellor candidates Schroeder and Schauble."

MORGENPOST: The majority of citizens must still be convinced about the Euro

The Berliner Morgenpost comments on polls showing some 60 percent of Germans are opposed to giving up the Deutsch Mark for the Euro: "The fifty-year-old success story of the Deutsche Mark has ended. The Euro will continue on the European stage. The decision by the German parliament radiates historical dimension, equal to that over German would be good, if such a historical experiment were grounded in an overwhelming political majority. However, the majority of citizens must still be convinced about the Euro. Germans are skeptical, feel themselves badly informed and deplore the risks more than they see the opportunities."

Turning to Kosovo, many papers commented on yesterday's referendum, which asked whether international mediation should be involved in negotiations between the majority ethnic Albanians and the Serbs. Preliminary returns showed that the most Serbs voted against the idea.

EL PAIS: The situation in Kosovo is worsening

From Madrid, today's El Pais writes: "International pressure on Belgrade seems insufficient. And because of this, the situation in Kosovo is worsening, and there is a danger that it will get out of control. The referendum that took place yesterday in Serbia is a democratic farce characteristic of populist dictatorships. But it could also become a complicating factor, if in addition to stirring Serbian nationalism, Milosevic uses it to step up repression against Kosovo's ethnic Albanian population.

Milosevic has once more succeeded in obtaining space to maneuver and, even more important, time. Just when time is on the side of destabilization: on the one hand, the escalation of Serbian repression and on the other, the reinforcement of independent groups in Kosovo. With the first Kosovar refugees reaching Albania, the region is once again entering a diabolic spiral."

LES ECHOS: Slobodan Milosevic has found nothing better to do to strengthen his power than organize a biased referendum

France's economic paper Les Echos writes: "More and more isolated on the international scene, and violently criticized by Montenegro -the only other state remaining in the [Yugoslav] federation with Serbia - president Slobodan Milosevic has found nothing better to do to strengthen his power than organize a biased referendum. The results leave no doubt that the great majority of Serbs, feeling abandoned by the rest of the world, continue to find an outlet to their daily frustrations in an exacerbated nationalism."

LE SOIR: Milosevic has a double objective

From Brussels, Edouard van Velthem wrote in yesterday's Le Soir: "As the creator of this calculated initiative, Milosevic has a double objective. To the outside world he's buying more time, betting on the worsening of the situation and the maintaining of a status quo, judged by everyone to be unsustainable. To his own country, he hopes to give a new legitimacy to his uncompromising attitude by reactivating some old themes from the Croatia and Bosnia wars: national unity and patriotic mobilization of the Serbian people against an "international conspiracy" guided by "German-American neocolonial diplomacy."

SAECHSISCHE ZEITUNG: It is disgraceful that a French officer of the peacekeeping force openly did all he could to keep the most sought-after war criminal free

The Saechsische Zeitung from Dresden commented on reports that a French military officer might have scuttled a NATO-led plan to capture international war criminal Radovan Karadzic last summer by tipping him off. It writes: "If there is anyone who has the ability and mandate to catch convicted war criminals, it is the international peacekeeping forces alone. It is their duty, and their moral responsibility to the victims of the Balkan war...which makes the disclosure about [French] Major Herve Gourmelon even more monstrous. That a French officer of the peacekeeping force openly did all he could to keep the most sought-after war criminal free from lock and key is disgraceful. It is hard to believe that the Major...believed in Karadzic's innocence and thought the Hague tribunal's indictment was unjust. What is more probable is that there were political calculations behind his questionable 'mission.'"

Other European newspapers were occupied with yesterday's escape and recapture of Belgium's most notorious criminal, Marc Dutroux, a convicted child-rapist and murderer. Most condemned the Belgium police force and government, which have come under continued fire for its bungling of the case.

LIBERATION: Is it too much to ask that Dutroux be guarded with a little more care than the average candy-store thief ?

From Paris, Liberation writes: "For the Belgian state, which was gravely implicated in this assassin's wrongdoings, Dutroux's surveillance was not only a respectful duty rendered to the memory of his young victims -- cynically, it also concerned the very survival of institutions. Despite this, Dutroux escaped with disconcerting ease. The judicial and police dysfunctions that favored Dutroux's long impunity reappeared again after the Belgian authorities' promises to change. What Dutroux deserves is the strict application of the rule of law. But is it too much to ask that he be guarded with a little more care than the average candy-store thief?"

NEUE RURH/NEUE RHEIN ZEITUNG: Belgium has learned nothing from the blatant abuses of the past

From Essen in Germany, the Neue Ruhr/Neue Rhein Zeitung comments: "The pedophile and murderer Marc Dutroux was able to flee yesterday from the courthouse in the south Belgian town of Neufchateau. This crowned the unending chain of judicial and police scandals in the vicinity. Did Belgian officials only botch once more, or was the mass murderer able to flee because he had assistance? Both possibilities are scandalous. Both show that Belgium has learned nothing from the blatant abuses of the past. Dutroux's revealing testimony in the imminent public trial may possibly be regarded as a threat...Yet no one believes anymore in the self-cleansing of the political scene and the legal system in Belgium."