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Western Press Review: Franco-German Summit Invigorates Ties

  • Joel Blocker
  • Dora Slaba

Prague, 1 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A number of West European newspapers comment on the two-day Franco-German summit in Potsdam, which ends today. Among other subjects discussed in the Western press are Russia and Iraq.

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Perhaps a new European political constellation is in the making

Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says in an editorial: "For years, there has been talk about (reinvigorating) the German-French alliance, finding a new balance and setting new mutual goals. This has not occurred, surely because of the fatigue of those concerned."

The FAZ explains: "The enthusiastic launching of (the European Union's) Maastricht (Treaty several years ago), important for former President Francois Mitterrand and former chancellor Helmut Kohl in both their foreign and domestic policies, left them little energy for other new initiatives."

The paper adds: "There is also perhaps a new European political constellation in the making. The 'Bonn-Paris axis' was once the most crucial West European relationship, almost a definition of the EU itself. But with the EU's coming expansion to the East, the bilateral axis could one day become the Weimar Triangle -- France, Germany and Poland. Still, we haven't gone that far yet."

SUEDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The summit in Potsdam is a start toward normalcy

In a commentary for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Gerd Kroencke writes of the first ceremonial meeting between the newly elected Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin: "Schroeder is a Social Democrat who could not win the election without borrowing from his Labor colleagues in Britain. New on the scene, he will take some getting used to in Paris."

The commentary continues: "But Schroeder's use of the British card was not entirely serious. He really played it in order to present himself as a German Tony Blair during the election campaign. The Germans, always of one mind with the French on the euro, will be taking over the European Union presidency just when the new currency is to be launched (Jan. 1), and that has increased their weight with the French. What's more, it is remembered soothingly in France that Schroeder in any case rushed over to Paris immediately after his election to announce how important he sees the Franco-German alliance."

Kroencke adds: "Politicians have long accorded great symbolic value to the Franco-German friendship, with their ideal being the unrepeatable feat of European visionaries Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle. Kohl and former president Francois Mitterrand also provided a visionary gesture photographed together on the mass graves of Verdun....But Schroeder politely declined a similar invitation.....This can be put down to a desire for normalcy..., and the summit in Potsdam is not a bad start in that direction.."

SAARBRUECKER ZEITUNG: Chancellor Schroeder wants to re-establish relations on a more pragmatic basis

Two other German newspapers briefly comment on the Potsdam meeting. In an editorial entitled "Back to Work," the Saarbruecker Zeitung writes: "That's the best slogan for Chancellor Schroeder's first Franco-German summit....The dusty symbolism that, after 35 long years, had begun to overshadow these meetings is now being replaced by greater openness and a more matter-of-fact attitude."

The Maerkische Allgemeine says that "the Franco-German meeting marks a renewal in relations between the two countries. That's a good thing," the paper adds, "because during the past few years, relations have degenerated to the point where these meetings have become a routine procedure." The paper adds: "After the death (in early 1996) of Mitterrand, who was Kohl's close friend, relations were no longer what they once were. Now Chancellor Schroeder wants to re-establish them on a more pragmatic basis."

LE FIGARO: The views of Paris and Bonn about enlargement are now closer than before

The French daily Le Figaro writes in an editorial: "The first Franco-German summit of the Schroeder era is taking place under the sign of 'a new beginning.' Relations between the two countries need some new momentum --at the end of the Kohl era, they had become just routine and full of misunderstandings."

The paper goes on: "The two partners may not be aware of this... but an expanded EU is actually the major theme of this 72nd Franco-German summit. The views of Paris and Bonn about enlargement are now closer than before, particularly on the pace of EU Eastward expansion, where the tendency is clearly to slow down. But there are now also strong differences between the two countries on two related issues, the financing of EU budgets and the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy."

LE MONDE: The EU should have its own defense capacity

In a commentary for Le Monde, Daniel Vernet focuses on the defense questions that were likely to come up in Potsdam. He says that the French and German defense ministers present at the meeting surely discussed the idea, launched by British Prime Minister Tony Blair early last month, of enhancing the EU's defense capacity.

Vernet writes that the questions, as always, are: "When they consider their interests threatened, how can the Europeans defend themselves without any U.S. involvement? Through what institution and by what means should they act?"

"It's clear," Vernet adds, "that, according to traditional British thinking, EU defense capacities should not overlap with or compete with those of NATO. But Tony Blair has now accepted that the EU should have its own defense capacity."

Vernet says that formalizing the nature of a purely EU defense arms in document is "possible even before the April 1999 NATO summit in Washington, which will adopt a new strategic concept....This text, according to Paris, should give a fair place to a European security and defense identity." He concludes: "Germany's coming presidency of the EU should also deal with it swiftly."

WASHINGTON POST: Primakov's blaming of outsiders is corrosive domestically

A Washington Post editorial today says that "Russian officials desperate for more dollars from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have settled on two rather odd tactics." One, says the paper, "is to insult the fund, which --according to Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov-- employs 'young kids who have seen almost nothing in life and who, without knowing our situation, start to dictate or recommend some kind of development plans.'"

"In addition," the paper adds, "Russia has taken to threatening the Fund --with all the terrible things that Russia will do to itself if more loans are not forthcoming. Foremost among these self-inflicted wounds, Mr. Primakov warns, will be printing more rubles to make up the shortfall, a strategy likely to result in hyper-inflation."

The editorial continues: "Primakov's blaming of outsiders is corrosive domestically because it forestalls Russian understanding of what Russians must do to solve their economic problems. Putting a gun to his own head isn't any more effective; it simply further erodes international confidence in Mr. Primakov's government."

The WP concludes: "It makes no sense for the IMF to lend large sums to the Russian Government if it has no sensible plan to restore the nation's economic health. The money will be frittered away, as past loans have been, and future generations of Russians will be that much more in debt. Russia needs to collect more taxes. It needs to adopt a realistic budget. It needs a host of reforms that neither the IMF nor any other outsider can impose."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Starovoitova's killing has wracked Russia's conscience, it should also sting ours

In a commentary for the Los Angeles Times, U.S. Russian specialist Susan Eisenhower pays tribute to the late Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova. She says: "Though...Starovoitova was not a household name outside of Russia, the world is a lonelier place with her passing. One of the brightest lights of the Russian independence and reform movement was extinguished a little more than a week ago when Starovoitova was gunned down in the stairwell of her St. Petersburg apartment. The hail of bullets felled one of the bravest, most principled people to rise to prominence on the carcass of the decaying communist state."

The commentary goes on: "In Russia, Starovoitova's death is being compared with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Many recognize that it could be some kind of a turning point. Perhaps her death will catalyze democratic forces. We can only hope."

Eisenhower also says: "But just as her killing has wracked Russia's conscience, it should also sting ours. What have we done in our U.S. policy toward Russia that has prompted the architect of it, Undersecretary of State Strobe Talbott, to admit that Russia has been seized by anti-Western sentiment?"

She concludes: "Unlike so many others, Starovoitova spoke as she lived, with honesty and courage. A light has indeed gone out for us all."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: A military response to Saddam is a better option than relying on internal resistance

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger discusses the most recent U.S.-Iraq confrontation in a commentary for the Los Angeles Times. He writes that the "third crisis within a year ended like all the others. Iraq reinstated the UN inspections system. Washington backed off from military action...and both sides claimed victory. In a sense," Kissinger adds, "both sides are right. Washington wins the battles, but Saddam Hussein wins the war."

Kissinger continues: "The cumulative impact of the various Iraqi crises amounts to a strategic setback....With each successive crisis, American policy has become more captive to a fragile UN consensus....And each crisis has eroded support for Washington among the Gulf and Arab states.

He adds: "The Clinton Administration has not been willing to face the fact that the issue is not UN weapons inspections but the continued rule of Saddam Hussein....U.S. military measures in the Gulf have repeatedly signaled an overriding reluctance to use force. That erodes credibility."

Kissinger also says: "The military response to Saddam's next provocation should lead to destroying his command and control sites, suspected locations of weapons of mass destruction, and the Republican guards (the basis of his rule). On the whole...this is a better option than relying largely on internal resistance."