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Western Press Review: Danish Vote Against Euro; Yugoslavia

  • Ron Synovitz

Prague, 29 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Newspapers across Western Europe are writing editorials and analyses about the impact of a Danish referendum yesterday in which voters rejected the idea of joining the common EU currency, the euro. Most writers see the "no" vote as a threat to the value of the euro on foreign exchange markets, but several influential newspaper also predict political fallout across the European Union. There is also continuing commentary on Yugoslav developments.

An editorial in today's Financial Times of London says: "The Danish vote against joining the euro is likely to send a political shock-wave across the EU. The popular revolt [against the euro] could knock public confidence in the single currency across the euro-zone. It is also likely to cause both Sweden and [Britain] to hesitate before they call their own promised referendums on joining, and may even persuade them to postpone any vote for the foreseeable future.:

The editorial goes on: "Europe's political leaders cannot ignore the signal of the first referendum in the EU on the single currency. In particular, it is likely to worry the German government, conscious that German voters are already thoroughly dubious about abandoning the D-Mark for a currency that is proving to be less solid.." It adds: "The [Danish] outcome is likely to make the drift towards a two-speed or multiple-speed EU, with a hard core within the euro-zone, much more pronounced. If [Britain], Denmark and Sweden remain in an outer circle, other outsiders such as [non-EU members] Norway and Switzerland may be tempted to join them."

An analysis by Almar Latour in today's Wall Street Journal Europe also predicts political fallout that could effect internal EU reforms as well as EU defense initiatives. Latour writes: "The 'no' vote reflects a skepticism among Danish, as well as other European, voters about the future of the union and is also sure to send ripples through Europe's political scene, fueling an already heated debate on deeper integration of the EU ahead of an intergovernmental conference in Nice, France, in December."

Latour concludes: "Political observers think the Danish vote will loom over the meeting in Nice. Sweden, Denmark and [Britain] could form a bloc against speedy integration, just when issues like the establishment of a common European defense and changes in European decision-making processes -- including a possible end to individual member states' veto rights -- are up for discussion."

Another analysis -- this one by Tom Buerkle in today's International Herald Tribune -- says the Danish vote is expected to put additional pressure on the euro and raise fresh political problems for the EU. But Buerkle writes: "[Currency] dealers did not expect a dramatic market reaction to the verdict. Most investors had already discounted a negative vote, and the prospect of further intervention by the Group of Seven industrialized countries was supporting the euro -- a prospect underscored by a German central banker." Buerkle concludes: "The Danish result also could deepen divisions within the EU by bolstering those who want further integration among the 11 euro countries -- 12 with the entry of Greece in January -- even if that slows the EU's enlargement efforts."

An editorial in the influential French provincial daily Dernieres Nouvelles d'Alsace says the democratic rigor of the Danish vote is worthy of respect, but the result is not admirable. The newspaper writes: "In saying 'no' to the euro, the Danes have at the same time slammed the door on further EU integration." The paper also reproaches the 11 EU governments now belonging to the euro zone for, in its words, "having never understood how -- nor having the political courage -- to explain the importance of the common currency."

What, the editorial asks, "can be said now about the continuous fall in value of the euro against the dollar?" It answers: "Without the euro, the French franc -- buffeted by the high price of petroleum -- would probably have been devalued, as often happened in the past. And Germany would likely have raised interest rates to protect its cherished mark. All this would have held back economic growth and created additional unemployment in both countries."

"Even so," sums up the editorial, "let's respect the Danish vote -- while at the same time tallying up its damages. Damages for Denmark and for the entire EU, whose leaders are unable to communicate with their peoples and explain the vision of a true Union."

An editorial in the Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitnung today calls the Danish vote "a setback for European unity." But the editorial says: "This is not an apocolyptic disaster, nor is it really a major crisis. The Danish result is not fully unexpected and is in line with recent developments. The euro currency has been falling in value against the U.S. dollar from the beginning of its existence through the last 21 months. Still, all things considered, this vote will not strengthen the value of the euro."

Western newspapers today also are commenting about the ongoing controversy over the vote count in last Sunday's Yugoslav presidential election. A New York Times editorial notes that Serbia's Orthodox Church yesterday joined most of the political parties in Yugoslavia -- as well as U.S. President Bill Clinton and leaders across the European Union -- in recognizing an outright victory for opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica.

The editorial says: "Regrettably, [President Slobodan] Milosevic himself does not yet seem to have gotten the message. His allies in the government-controlled election commission have brazenly shaved just enough votes off Mr. Kostunica's winning margin to call for a runoff vote next month. That insults democracy and invites political turmoil. The international community, including Russia, must firmly insist that Mr. Milosevic step aside now." The paper concludes that the true results of Sunday's vote gave Mr. Kostunica a clear majority of 52.54 percent compared to only 35 percent for Milosevic.

An analysis in today's Washington Post by Jim Hoagland says that Milosevic has a "dictator's disease [that is] characterized by a sudden loss of hearing and election-day dizziness." Hoagland writes: "Surrounded by flunkies fearful of telling him the truth, Milosevic too has lost by an unfixable margin an election he thought he could always doctor." Hoagland adds: "The standoff in Belgrade seems unequal: Milosevic retains a monopoly on violence. The opposition can respond only with a call for a general strike and nonviolent demonstrations. But the history of other recent failed dictatorships suggests that the odds have decisively shifted against Milosevic. His mantle of domestic invincibility has been shredded. He is a Balkan Humpty Dumpty who cannot be put back together again. Two key institutions, the federal army and the Orthodox Church, have refused to support Milosevic's fraudulent calls for a runoff. Key aides are reported to be deserting him."

An analysis by Martin Woollacott in today's British Guardian newspaper says: "The repudiation of Slobodan Milosevic by such a large proportion of his own people, in part because his military project failed so completely, must mark a repudiation of war as a means of pursuing national objectives. Vojislav Kostunica does not differ much from Milosevic on Serbia's right to Kosovo, on the status of the Bosnian Serb entity-- Republika Srpska -- or on the desirability of Montenegro staying with Serbia. But he would not march to secure them. Milosevic himself could not now, after such a reverse, order such actions. They have become impossible."

Woollacott goes on to predict: "A diminished Milosevic may stagger on for a while. Certainly a confused transition is to be expected, since the country has no real mechanisms for a transfer of power. Violence can also hardly be ruled out in the future in such places as Kosovo, Montenegro, or Albania."