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Western Press Review: German Coalition And Pinochet Arrest Criticized

By Elizabeth Weinstein and Dora Slaba

Prague, 21 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press today looks at Germany's new Social Democrat (SPD) and Green coalition government, which was officially created yesterday in Bonn. Some editorials criticize SPD Chancellor-elect Gerhard Schroeder's choice of ministers and warn that he is already back-peddling on campaign promises. Commentary also continues on the controversial arrest of Chilean General Augusto Pinochet.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: The new government is going in the wrong direction

The Wall Street Journal Europe today carries an editorial called "Schroeder's Ruse." The paper says that businessman Jost Stollmann's announcement yesterday that he would not be Germany's next economics minister is a key indicator that the new government is going in the wrong direction. Stollman turned down the job because Schroeder announced that all economic policy would be handed over to the finance ministry, headed by SPD Chairman Oskar Lafontaine. The arrangement, the editorial says, "would make it impossible for (Stollmann) to implement the free-market agenda he says Germany needs, and which Mr. Lafontaine so passionately opposes."

The editorial also says Stollmann's exit indicates a rebirth of the "old-time, Leftist thinking" of past governments.

The WSJ concludes: "The departure of the one man who might have favored some (economic) reform in Germany has sent tremors through the country's financial markets, causing the Deutsche mark to plunge yesterday. The German people too will no doubt suffer a case of the jitters as the new government's true intentions become more clear. Perhaps they should have asked for a clearer statement of those intentions before they went to the polls."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Germans should give Lafontaine a chance

A commentary by Peter Norman in today's Financial Times says the 50-page government program agreed on yesterday between the SPD and the Greens is what it describes as "far out of line" with Schroeder's pledges to reduce unemployment and to improve economic policies left over from Helmut Kohl.

Calling Lafontaine the government's new "strong man," Norman says that his coming economic policies will be a "whiff of the 1970s." Overall, Norman says, Lafontaine's tax plan will shift money from the corporate sector to working families with the aim of boosting consumption. Even though Stollmann's exit represents a radical change in direction, Norman says Germans should give Lafontaine a chance.

Norman concludes: "Given that Mr. Lafontaine will not be deflected from his policy of encouraging consumption through tax reform, there could probably be no better time for such an experiment. Germany's high unemployment proved slow to fall under Mr. Kohl. The financial fall-out from the economic crises of East Asia and Russia have created fears of global deflation. By putting money into people's pockets, the incoming German government will encourage demand at home. That should stimulate the domestic economy and imports and so benefit foreign economies too."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Schroeder has backed down on his promised employment policy

An editorial in today's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says Schroeder's new coalition has "not learned its lesson." The paper says yesterday's agreement between the SPD and the Greens has "destroyed whatever illusions were still left" among Germany's four million unemployed workers.

The FAZ explains: "The future chancellor Schroeder has backed down on his promised employment policy, plainly stated in his government's program. The miserable quality of his tax- and finance policy, the lack of momentum in social policy, the predominance of a distribution policy...and the lack of a competition--oriented bidding strategy have resulted in ...a policy that has nothing to offer in the areas of economic dynamics and new employment opportunities."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The new government will have to heed the past

A commentary by Rolf Dietrich Schwartz in yesterday's Frankfurter Rundschau predicts that, "as the SPD and Greens reveal their true colors after effecting a massive electoral deception...panic will soon sweep the land." Schwartz says that if the new government wants to break out of the embedded structures left over from Helmut Kohl's years in power, it will have to "heed the past".

Schwartz concludes by questioning whether the new coalition will take time to analyze how the policies of the past have affected the present. Schwartz says: "One thing is certain: things could not go on in the same way as they had for the past 16 years, if society was not to disintegrate."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Is this really an ethical foreign policy?

The Western press also continues to assess the political and human rights implications of the arrest in Britain last week of former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet. An editorial in Britain's Daily Telegraph criticizes Tony Blair's Labour Government for taking what it calls a "political" stance on the arrest. The paper says that by detaining Pinochet, Blair's government has come dangerously close to claiming that due process of law does not matter when dealing with former dictators. It also says Britain is harming its relations with what it describes as one of its "closest allies" in an action of "unbelievable crassness."

The DT's editorial concludes with a question: "Imagine how we would react if a former British prime minister were arrested abroad for crimes...committed here. Chile's transition to a multi-party democracy rests on a delicate series of amnesty agreements, similar to those adopted by South Africa. The arrangement has worked well. Yet those agreements could now be torn apart by the intervention of (the British) Government.... Is this really an ethical foreign policy?"

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The Pinochet case is a big step backward

Finally today, a commentary by Philip Bowring in the International Herald Tribune calls the Pinochet case "stunningly hypocritical." Bowring says Europe is assuming "moral superiority" in its detention of Pinochet and applying the "same sort of extra-territoriality that it often accuses the United States of."

Bowring advocates that countries that negotiate peace settlements must include some degree of forgiveness of past behavior. If not, he warns, they risk sliding down a slippery slope of judicial vengeance. Bowring says this slippery slope could include everything from arresting British cabinet ministers for their policies in former colonial territories to extraditing South Africa's F.W. DeKlerk, Indonesia's President Suharto or Israel's Ariel Sharon.

He concludes with this warning: "The Pinochet case is a big step backward, with some nasty implications for peace processes everywhere."