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Western Press Review: Elections In Spain, Russia, IMF

  • Don Hill



Prague, 14 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Elections occupy much Western commentary today -- the recent one of Spain's Jose Maria Aznar, the probable one of Russia's Vladimir Putin, and that of who knows whom at the IMF.

Denmark's Information hails a new European conservative leader in Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and Britain's Financial Times says Spain's situation is unique in the EU.

INFORMATION: Aznar has ensured himself a position as Europe's leading conservative leader

Information says this in an editorial: "In a Europe where the conservatives and the social democrats rule over most of the EU member states, Jose Maria Aznar's landslide victory in Spain last Sunday is at least groundbreaking. While nobody remembers Margaret Thatcher, while Germany's former Chancellor Helmut Kohl has been disgraced, and while France's Gaullist President Jacques Chirac's popularity has waned, Aznar, the former taxman from Valladolid, has ensured himself a position as Europe's leading conservative leader."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Left and right are blurring in today's Europe

The Financial Times editorializes that Sunday's results show not only that Spain marches to a different drumbeat than that which paces the rest of Europe, but also that lines between left and right are blurring in Europe. In the Financial Times' words: "His re-election as virtually the only center-right leader in the 15-nation EU does not, however, necessarily mark a more general turning-point. Since -- or because of -- Franco, Spain has been on a different political cycle than that of most of the EU." The editorial says also: "If left and right are blurring in today's Europe, it is partly due to Mr. Aznar making common cause with Britain's [Prime Minister] Tony Blair."

LE MONDE: Aznar courageously distanced himself from his conservative Austrian colleagues

The French daily Le Monde -- usually left-of-center in its political orientation -- says in an editorial that the Spanish election results show, as Le Monde puts it: "Traditional Spain --agricultural, exporting labor to better-endowed north European nations -- has been replaced by a modern country, oriented toward new technologies and services. ... Not only Aznar's free-market policies, but also his economic record played a role in his electoral success."

Le Monde also says this: "Spain's position at the heart of the European Union has been reinforced by the election."

"That's all the more true," it adds, because, in the editorial's words, "Aznar courageously distanced himself and his party from their conservative Austrian colleagues when [the Austrians] allied themselves with the [extreme-right] party of Joerg Haider."

IRISH TIMES: Blair might have been better advised to have visited Russia after its people had voted

The Irish Times scolds Tony Blair for visiting Russia and in effect, taking sides, in the newspaper's editorial view, with the hawkish Vladimir Putin. The editorial phrased it this way: "That Mr. Blair came to Russia at the height of a presidential election campaign to make favorable comments about a single candidate falls little short of participation in [Russia's presidential] campaign. It is true that Mr. Blair has had the good sense to back the odds-on favorite, but he also has backed a hawk when there are other more liberal and pro-Western candidates in the race. The British leader might have been better advised to have visited Russia after its people had voted."

LE FIGARO: No other peripheral Russian republic has been subject to such direct rule

In a commentary for the French daily Le Figaro Russian specialist Helene Carrere d'Encausse writes of what she calls Vladimir Putin's "wager" in Chechnya. She says the acting Russian president has rejected any idea of a political compromise with the Chechen separatists and is now, in her words, "imposing Moscow's direct authority" over the region for at least two years. She writes that no other peripheral Russian republic has been subject to such direct rule. For most subjects of the federation, as she puts it: "autonomy is the key to relations between them and the center [Moscow]."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Schroeder's insistence on a German national champion for the IMF has done much damage to Germany's prestige

On international squabbling over who should head the International Monetary Fund, known as the IMF, the Wall Street Journal Europe begins an editorial with a thunderclap. It says this: "You have to wonder just who Gerhard Schroeder thinks he is. True, being German chancellor does entitle him to the perquisites of his office." The editorial goes on: "What it does not entitle him to, however, is the slavish indulgence of his whims, especially when it comes to the present ruckus over succession to the IMF."

The newspaper says Schroeder wants a German in the post at all costs, but has failed to offer a candidate of appropriate accomplishments. The editorial concludes with this: "It is now even money [that is, as likely as not] that [former German Finance Minister Horst Koehler] ultimately will get the prize. But what's certain is that Mr. Schroeder's insistence on a German national champion for the IMF has done as much damage to Germany's prestige as the promotion of national champions in industry did to Germany's economy."

GUARDIAN: The IMF squabble most likely will achieve the precise opposite of its desired effect

Commentator Hugo Young in London, writing in the Guardian, calls the IMF squabble "Another Fine Mess." Young writes: "As a cameo of how such mismatches come about -- how diplomacy can be the enemy of quality -- this saga could hardly be improved on. It is a tale of our time. A bitter exercise in German stubbornness became, in the maneuvers of diplomacy, inevitable. Yet its outcome will be negative. Most likely it will achieve, in transatlantic power relations, the precise opposite of its desired effect."

NEW YORK TIMES: Pope John Paul still has the strength of heart and mind to confront the historical deviations of the Catholic Church

On a different topic, the New York Times in an editorial honors Pope John Paul for his act of repentance Sunday for the errors of the Roman Catholic Church over the last 2,000 years. The Times says this: "Bent by age and illness, John Paul is no longer the energetic leader who did so much to speed in demise of communism in Eastern Europe. But as he demonstrated on Sunday, he still has the strength of heart and mind to confront the historical deviations of the Catholic Church and to prepare it for the changes that will come in its third millennium."

(Joel Blocker in Prague and Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to the press review.)

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