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Western Press Review: Euro's Decline, U.S. Missile Defense, Armenia

  • Joel Blocker



Prague, 28 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Much of Western press commentary today focuses on two quite different issues: the continuing fall in value of the euro -- the European Union's single currency -- and the proposed national missile defense system for the United States. There is also a comment on Armenia's political scene.

IRISH TIMES: The markets gave their verdict on what they see as a lack of credibility

The Irish Times says there was little surprise in yesterday's decision by the EU's European Central Bank, or ECB, to again increase interest rates in the 11 union member-states participating in the euro. In an editorial, the paper writes: "The gradual increase in interest rates of the last few months [by the ECB] has been designed to try to hold down inflation, as the main continental economies enter a period of economic recovery. The markets believe that they are also an attempt to prop up the ailing euro."

The paper comments: "This is a perception which the ECB is keen to avoid, but nevertheless the euro sank further yesterday following the rate increase, as the markets gave their verdict on what they see as a lack of credibility."

AFTENPOSTEN: There is a general distrust of EU's policies

In Norway -- a nation that has chosen not to join the EU -- the daily Aftenposten finds "the reasons for the euro's free fall both in the inability of the larger EU countries to implement structural economic reforms and in the continuing strong economic growth in the United States. U.S. growth," the paper points out, "is twice as rapid as Europe's, even though recent economic data suggests that larger European countries such as Italy and Germany have again resumed [substantial] growth."

The paper goes on to say that renewed EU growth "is not enough." It writes: "Unemployment in the EU is double that of the U.S., mainly as a result of Western Europe's much less flexible labor market. Still," the editorial continues, "the euro's plummeting cannot be explained by economic factors alone. Also contributing to its declining strength is a general distrust of EU's policies because of an evident lack of political will for reforms and the union's ambitious plans to enlarge eastward."

The paper concludes: "If the current trend continues, there is no guarantee that the political and financial fundamentals [of the EU] will not collapse."

ECONOMIST: The tough question is whether EU governments will enact reforms

The current issue (dated April 29) of the British weekly Economist says in a news analysis that the EU's single currency "has developed an uncanny habit, even in its young life, of making its leaders look foolish." It adds: "A string of attempts by politicians and central bankers to shrug off the euro's slide, or even to talk the currency up, has so far had no effect."

Like the Aftenposten and others, the magazine attributes the euro's decline -- more than 22 percent against the U.S. dollar since it was launched 16 months ago -- to the same two factors. They are, in the Economist's words, the United States' "much more spectacular boom [and the currency] markets' reluctance to believe that [the EU] has the political will for structural reform." The Economist says: "The tough question is whether [EU] governments will enact the reforms needed to sustain the recovery."

The magazine writes further: "It is still difficult to select a single European country as a model of structural reform of the sort required to sustain the recovery." Among the bigger euro-zone economies, it finds that "the Netherlands comes perhaps closest to achieving that magic mix of deregulation, tax reform and a looser labor market."

"But Germany, France, and Italy," the Economist goes on, "each governed by an awkward coalition of parties, all have a way to go. Economic revival could either lend [EU] politicians the space they need to push through further changes, or become an excuse for complacency. Without bolder evidence of reform," it sums up, "the [EU's] stubborn single currency may well refuse to climb back up for a while yet."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Currency markets are hardly ever what they seem

A commentary in the Frankfurter Rundschau by Mario Mueller describes German reaction to the fall of the single currency as "the psychosis of the euro." He writes: "The more the euro loses value, not only on the foreign-exchange markets but also in public opinion, the more valuable it becomes as a target for comedians." One German television talk-show host, he reports, recently "spoke disdainfully of 'a European Union zloty' while," he adds, "the mass-circulation daily Bild spoke of a 'a pulp-soft euro.'"

The commentary continues: "Today, those Germans who have always opposed a single EU money and still mourn the deutschmark are riding high. Their share of the total population is likely to have risen with the fall of the euro. But," Mueller adds, "uncertainty is spreading even among advocates of the euro project." Many conclude, he says, that "if the new currency is losing so much strength on the markets, then it cannot be of much value."

The commentator says, "That conclusion is false, however." He explains: "Contrary to what market-economy purists and textbooks want to make people believe, currency markets are hardly ever what they seem." Their operators, he says, "sometimes tend to exaggerate. The result is that prices then deviate strongly upwards or downwards from values justified by economic fundamentals." Mueller comments: "Such speculative bubbles are no modern achievement, but rather have been an accompanying feature of economic realities for centuries. Often, the bubbles inflate over long periods before they burst."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Missile defense is a political issue

Comments today on the proposed U.S. national missile defense are largely critical of the project. In the International Herald Tribune, columnist Flora Lewis says the real reason for the growing pressure to accelerate the building of a U.S. system against missiles from what the U.S. calls "rogue states" is political, not military. She writes: "It is a political issue, not really about security because military logic cannot justify a decision to deploy a weapon before knowing whether it will work and whether the threat is real."

Lewis argues that the projected "strategic anti-missile has had only two full tests. One failed. The other was said to work, although of course test conditions were as favorable as possible." For her, "there are so many different reasons to oppose this frenetic techno-fantasy that the real question is why the advocates are pushing it so hard. In addition to the effectiveness question," she argues, "allies worry that it would undermine America's will to come to their defense if the U.S. felt that it was guaranteed safety against missiles, and Russia says that if the [1972 Washington-Moscow Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty is dumped by the U.S., that would invalidate the whole fabric of arms-control agreements."

Lewis adds: "The pretense that the [ABM] treaty is obsolete because it was signed with the Soviet Union, which no longer exists, is particularly perverse. Russia accepted formal responsibility for all Soviet international obligations, and if Washington says this does not apply to this one treaty, then all the huge complex of U.S.-Russian agreements is in danger."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: There are many factors which argue against a missile defense

An editorial in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung calls the missile project "Star Wars utopia." The paper writes: "From a technical point of view, there are many factors which argue against a missile defense. Apart from the cost -- a U.S. congressional committee puts it at between $4 billion and $30 billion just for the most basic version -- researchers fear that a protective shield might not even work. Their arguments," the paper says, "are convincing: even a defense against short- and medium-range missiles is more complicated than the military admits. [Long-range] missiles are even more difficult to intercept because they fly faster."

"In addition," the paper continues, "the number of errors in missile-defense tests hardly suggests a simple technology. If [outgoing U.S. President] Bill Clinton does decide in the autumn to go ahead with the project," it concludes, "there remains one comfort: An earlier U.S. president [Ronald Reagan] dreamed of a protective shield over America. A few years later, the Star Wars scheme was abandoned. The reason: the price was too high and the technology too utopian."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The legacy of the old terrorist subculture lingers

In a commentary in the Wall Street Journal Europe, analyst Vladimir Socor asks: "Who is poisoning Armenia's body politic?" He says that this week's move by the Armenian parliament to impeach President Robert Kocharian is, in his words, only "the latest contest over power and policy in Yerevan [to unfold] against a blood-stained background. Political authority and legitimacy in the country," he says, "collapsed [in October], when gunmen burst into the hall of parliament and murdered [the prime minister] and six other high officials."

Socor writes that the practice of what he calls "politically rationalized violence by a minority [stems] from historic roots [dating back to] a subculture of terrorism developed by Armenians in the Ottoman and Russian empires in the late 19th and early 20th centuries." He says that more recent acts of internal terrorism have shocked and aggrieved many in Armenia and the diaspora. Yet, he adds, "those acts germinated in an atmosphere that tends to condone terrorism -- as long as it targets the perceived enemies of the nation."

The commentary concludes: "The legacy of the old terrorist subculture, lingering both within and outside the official establishment, poisons the body politic. [Until] Armenians emphatically cast that historic legacy aside, it will remain a major obstacle to the democratic and economic development of a modern Armenian state."

(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this report.)

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