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Western Press Review: Yugo Election, Euro's Plight Discussed

  • Jeremy Bransten

Prague, 19 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Today's Western press commentary focuses on various European subjects. They include the declining fortunes of the euro, German and British politics, and the upcoming elections in Yugoslavia.


Roy Denman -- former representative of the European Commission in Washington -- writes a stinging commentary for today's International Herald Tribune, entitled: "It's Time to Tell the Truth About Joining the Euro."

Denman says European politicians know that a common currency is more than just an economic measure and will necessarily lead "toward European federation, which has always been the aim of the European adventure." According to Denman, adoption of the euro will entail "a fundamental change in a country's constitutional position." But he accuses the governments of Britain, Sweden and Denmark -- the three EU nations yet to decide to join the euro -- of deceiving their electorates, in an attempt to get them to accept the common EU currency, without acknowledging this fact. According to Denman, what these politicians are trying to do is "to get their countries in [the euro zone] on the sly, hoping that they [voters] will swallow in due course what has not been revealed to them in advance."

Denman argues that this strategy is bound to backfire and he advises being honest with voters and limiting the euro zone to those countries whose citizens truly back the project in its full scope. He concludes: "A great work of construction cannot be completed if a minority want not a cathedral but a tent."


Italy's La Repubblica notes the euro's continuing decline in value today in its editorial, writing: "It keeps falling. It's not enough that the European Central Bank is buying currency, it's not enough that it releases comforting data on inflation, it's not enough for it to make repeated declarations about the under-valuation of the euro. The euro continues to fall. "


Still on the topic of the euro, independent analyst David Roche writes in today's Wall Street Journal Europe that central bank intervention will not keep the euro from falling. Roche writes: "Politicians making the bull case for the euro usually point to euro-land's promising recovery and 'sound fundamentals.' How can it be, they argue, that just when Europe's prospects look brightest, the currency is so weak? The fact is," Roche says, "fundamentals -- at least the ones traditionally looked at -- are no longer enough to ensure a strong currency."

The commentator notes that "a few years ago, a country with a reasonable fiscal and monetary policy that was enjoying solid growth without excessive external deficits could expect to have a strong currency." But Roche says that this no longer always holds true in the global economy. He writes that the key factor making the dollar strong today and keeping the euro weak, is the technological advantage of the United States, which is being financed by both Americans and foreigners investing in U.S. companies through the stock market.

According to Roche, "so far this year, corporate Europe has pumped around $168 billion into U.S. equity assets. That's $165 billion more than U.S. corporations have invested in Europe." As long as the investment flow continues in this direction, he concludes, the euro is bound to remain weak, no matter what the European Central Bank does. Solutions for Europe -- according to Roche -- include liberalizing labor laws and stock markets. Only this, he writes, will reverse the euro's fortunes.


Britain's Financial Times also focuses on economics in one of its editorial today, looking at the overhaul of Germany's state pensions plan currently being prepared by Labor Minister Walter Riester. The paper notes that Germany's national unemployment rate of 9.5 percent hides considerable regional variations. But it adds that the cost of hiring new labor is so high that it prevents businesses in regions with low unemployment from hiring new staff from economically depressed areas.

As a result, the paper says, labor is not sufficiently mobile and Germany's national labor market functions poorly. The state pension reform aims to address this problem. But, the paper asks, does it go far enough? The Financial Times writes: "At 19.3 percent of gross wages [split equally between employers and employees], contributions to the state pay-as-you-go pension system account for a big part of non-wage labor costs -- and would be still higher without subsidies from the federal budget. But the reforms proposed by Mr. Riester would merely contain, rather than reverse, the explosion in costs resulting from the aging of the population." The paper argues: "Set against the scale of reform required in Germany, Mr. Riester's pensions bill looks a modest first step."


Turning to politics, the Financial Times, in another editorial, criticizes Britain's Conservative opposition for publicly backing last week's fuel protests. It says that supporting those who hold the government to ransom by threatening chaos and disruption sets a bad precedent. "For Conservatives, in particular," the paper notes, "opposition to such protests must be a matter of principle. Only in a country deprived of the ability to rid itself of its government through the ballot box could such disruption be justified. The UK is not such a country." The Financial Times asks and warns: "If the Conservatives are not a party of law and order, what are they? [Conservative Party leader William] Hague is sowing the wind. Should he gain office, he may reap the whirlwind."


Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in a commentary, casts doubt on the value of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's proposal to make mastery of the Internet part of general education and offer free internet training courses at unemployment offices. The paper writes that this "will not raise the general level of education. On the contrary," it says, "those who already possess a good general education will also be the ones able to make best use of modern information technologies. Only they will be able to use the computer as a tool and not confuse it with knowledge itself. The computer and the Internet cannot replace books and encyclopedias, only supplement them. Drawing attention to the opportunities offered by computers as well as their limits, should be the task of our schools."


Turning to Yugoslavia, the Irish Times writes in an analysis from Belgrade today: "There are fears that [Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic, facing defeat by Vojislav Kostunica, the opposition challenger in Sunday's presidential election, will do whatever is necessary to keep power." The paper points to recent vitriolic attacks launched by the state-run newspaper Politika against Kostunica, and notes that in the opinion of many local analysts, Milosevic will do what he can to ensure a win in the first round, scheduled for September 24.

The Irish Times goes on: "Analysts say he [Milosevic] will need a win in the first round. A former Socialist party member, Mr. Milovan Drecun, a former war reporter with state television, who recently left to form his own opposition party, strongly asserts there will be voting fraud. According to Mr. Drecun, who still has many contacts in the [ruling] Socialist Party, 'Milosevic wants to win the poll with 2.5 million votes in the first round. No second round is planned.'"

Drecun also says: "There will be manipulation, and if the manipulation leads to protests, [Milosevic] is preparing anti-riot police squads. He has well-trained units in the police for breaking protests.'" He adds that electoral fraud will focus on Kosovo and the two electoral districts in southern Serbia that encompass the provinces of Prokopulje and Vranje.


Alan Freeman, in Canada's Globe and Mail daily, concurs. He writes from Belgrade: "For the first time since Slobodan Milosevic took power in Yugoslavia a dozen years ago, the autocratic Serb leader faces possible defeat at the polls. But nobody here expects him to give up power voluntarily. With less than a week remaining before Yugoslavs go to the ballot box for a presidential election, opinion polls show Mr. Milosevic trailing badly behind. Vojislav Kostunica, the moderate Serb nationalist who has managed to unite Yugoslavia's usually fractious opposition and pose a powerful challenge for the presidency."

Freeman adds: "A series of surveys shows Mr. Kostunica, a low-key 56-year-old constitutional lawyer, about 20 percentage points ahead of Mr. Milosevic, but the ultimate outcome still remains in doubt. That's because independent observers and opposition politicians are convinced that Mr. Milosevic and the ruling Socialist Party won't hesitate to steal enough votes to hang on to power.