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Western Press Review: EU Problems, Russia, Serbia

  • Joel Blocker



Prague, 8 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Press commentators on both sides of the Atlantic continue to focus on the many problems now besetting the 15-nation European Union, not least its quarrelsome relations with the United States. There is also some comment today on Russia and Serbia.

NEW YORK TIMES: Important changes are taking place in trans-Atlantic relations

The New York Times, in a weekend editorial titled "Trans-Atlantic Transitions," notes that "the U.S. and [the EU are currently] quarreling over bananas, airplanes and beef, working together to secure peace in Kosovo and tangling over the future of NATO." The paper explains: "This improbable confluence of events reflects important changes taking place in trans-Atlantic relations. Perhaps more clearly than at any time since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, America and its European allies are confronting the economic frictions of globalization and adjusting to a world no longer shaped by the clash of ideologies."

The editorial goes on: "There are new stresses in America's relations with [the EU], but there are also encouraging signs that [the EU] may emerge from this period prepared to take a greater role in maintaining security on the Continent. That would be healthy for both the [EU and the U.S.] The most promising evidence of this shift is the negotiations over Kosovo. [EU] countries have shown themselves willing to take on more political and military responsibility than they did in Bosnia four years ago."

The NYT adds: "The [EU the U.S.] may also be headed for troubles in other economic areas. The introduction of the new [EU] currency, the euro, could force European governments into restrictive monetary policies that could retard needed economic growth, slowing the U.S.'s own economy and worsening trade tensions. [Further,] the EU's slowness to admit members from Central and Eastern Europe is distorting the political and economic development of the entire Continent."

The paper concludes: "Further frictions are likely as [the U.S. and the EU] adjust their relations to new circumstances. That is fine, as long as the problems are resolved constructively and not allowed to undermine the vital trans-Atlantic partnership."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Signs of a consensus are not bright

The U.S. daily Wall Street Journal Europe writes today about the EU's internal reform problems under the title, "The EU's Dialogue of the Deaf." The paper says: "We had better discard hopes that the EU summit later this month in Berlin will be a dignified affair where the leaders of France, Germany, Spain and so on will solemnly [sign] accords reached beforehand....At stake is the EU budget for the next seven years, and money is always a divisive issue. But even by these standards, positions could not be further apart."

"As it stands now," the WSJ editorial continues, "it looks as if the French have, as in many occasions past, given their neighbors a firm 'non'.' This time France may have effectively torpedoed the German idea of 'co-financing' according to which national treasuries, would take over a portion of [EU] spending on farm subsidies.... Germany hopes," the paper adds, "that tinkering with contributions and payment schemes will make up for the demise of [its] co-financing idea...and in time will reduce its role as the EU's largest net contributor. It can [still, however,] threaten to scuttle EU enlargement to Eastern Europe until the budgetary issue is resolved..."

The paper concludes that "signs of a consensus are not bright....After four months in power, [German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's] governing coalition has lost its upper-house majority and opposition leaders are demanding large EU budget cuts. His [EU] partners equally face domestic situations that militate against compromise. It thus remains to be seen whether [by the time they finish] in Berlin the leaders of the EU 15 will have held the line on spending and will still be on speaking terms."

DERNIERES NOUVELLES D'ALSACE: Common Agricultural Policy cannot eat up half the EU's budget forever

An influential French provincial paper, Dernieres nouvelles d'Alsace, today flatly says there will be no further European unification without agreement among the 15 on reforming the Union's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). In a signed editorial, the paper's foreign editor, Jean-Claude Kiefer, writes that "it's hard to understand these marathon negotiations, [which will recommence tomorrow in Brussels at a meeting of agricultural ministers], but one thing is certain: The CAP cannot eat up half the EU's budget forever...."

Kiefer goes on: "Everything has to be reconsidered now. We can even imagine a France willing to reduce EU subsidies to farmers in order to create a more 'normal' agriculture....But curiously, Germany, which is nonetheless demanding a reduction of its net contribution, has so far refused to touch its own farm system -- a bow to it own farm lobby."

The editorial sums up: "In short, the CAP has become the sum of [15] national interests -- with the EU as the cash register and alibi. But, without a reformed CAP -- the first of all [EU] 'common markets'-- there will be no further European integration, no opening of frontiers [eastward]. Is it really necessary," he asks in conclusion, "to remind the Brussels negotiators of this?"

DAILY TELEGRAPH: There is a deeper process at work

Britain's conservative Daily Telegraph focuses its attention today on another EU problem, the weakness of its new currency, the euro. The paper writes that since its introduction on January 1, "the euro has fallen so far and so steeply against the U.S. dollar that it can no longer be treated as a routine currency fluctuation."

The paper says further: "There is a deeper process at work, calling into question the long-term viability of [EU] monetary union. The markets are starting to sense that the euro-zone [of 11 EU nations] is being badly managed, with increasing concern that it may, in fact, be inherently unmanageable."

"Ultimately," the editorial continues, "the euro may recover. The euro-zone has an external trade surplus that will tend to raise the currency....[British conservatives, therefore,] should be careful not to suggest that a weak euro is itself evidence of [the EU monetary union's] failure, less a strong euro is cited as proof of success years hence. But there is no better time for [British Conservative Party Chairman] William Hague's newly announced committee of experts to examine, and proclaim, the advantages of [Britain's] sterling [currency]."

WASHINGTON POST: The next U.S. administration may find itself with even less attractive options

Writing in the Washington Post, columnist Fred Hiatt says that an ailing Russia continues to matter greatly to the world and that what U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott has called "strategic patience" is not enough to make an effective Washington policy toward Moscow. Hiatt writes: "Some in Washington [today] suggest that maybe Russia [doesn't] matter so much after all. Certainly many Russian politicians believe that the U.S. has written them off. (Most of the others believe that the U.S. out to destroy them.)"

The commentary continues: "It is not just Russians who suspect that the Clinton Administration has written them off. 'The U.S.-Russian relationship has, in the last eight years, gone from a strategic partnership,' Republican Senator Dick Lugar said recently, 'to a pragmatic one, to a relationship of benign neglect, to one that is lurching toward malign neglect.'" Hiatt adds: "In fact, most Administration officials have not concluded that Russia does not matter. They still believe, as Mr. Talbott has also said, that 'the stakes, for us, are huge.' They are just not sure what to do about it."

He concludes with a plea for Washington to seek to settle outstanding issues with Moscow now: "Some say all of this must wait until a spent [Russian President] Boris Yeltsin and a U.S. administration identified with failed polices both pass from the scene. But two years in modern Russian history is a long time. The next U.S. administration may find itself with even less attractive options than those available today."

TRIBUNE DE GENEVE: All this adds up to a deliberate show of force

In a signed editorial in Switzerland's Tribune de Geneve today, Andre Naef says that the Serbs have been "doubly humiliated" in recent days. He asks, "Has the moment been well-chosen?"

Naef writes: "In substance, the decision [over the weekend] by international arbiters to make [the important Bosnian city] of Brcko neutral territory is no doubt the least bad of all possible solutions. Taking into account the irreducible animosity between Bosnian Serbs and Muslims, it was indeed hard to imagine giving this strategically placed city -- from which Serbs expelled Muslims [during Bosnia's war] -- to either of the two communities."

But, the editorial adds, "at a moment when the West is seeking to conclude particularly difficult negotiations over Kosovo, one can legitimately ask if the time was propitious for announcing a Solomonic judgment [that is, half to Serbs, half to Muslims]. That's especially so," it continues, "because the [Brcko decision] coincided with a second slap in the face to the Serbs: the removal of the ultranationalist Nikola Poplasen as president of Republika Srpska [the Bosnian Serb entity]."

Naef continues: "In fact, rather than coincidence, what all this adds up to is a deliberate show of force. While U.S. envoy Robert Dole is seeking to persuade Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, doesn't the double humiliation of his Bosnian allies amount to an accentuation of the pressure on [Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic, who has now been shown he is totally isolated?" That would be no surprise, Naef concludes, because when it comes to the Serbs, "the Americans have never made a mystery of their preference for a confrontational strategy."

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