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Western Press Review: EU Expansion And Other Topics Grip Commentators

  • Don Hill

Prague, 7 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Europe -- reforming it, expanding its union, strengthening its backbone -- captures the attention of Western opinion writers today.


The British economic newspaper Financial Times writes today in an editorial that the EU's 15 member nations need to raise the priority level they are applying to eastward expansion. The newspaper, observing that the European Commission in Brussels will publish tomorrow its annual reports on progress of the 12 eastern and southern European candidates for joining the EU, calls for a greater sense of urgency.

The editorial says: "[The reports] will also set a road map for the negotiations, setting out how talks on all the remaining technical chapters can be begun by 2002. Indeed, a first wave of applicants could even complete the process by the end of that year."

It continues, "[The] member states [must] put their own house in order before the next enlargement. There is a real danger that foot-dragging on internal reform will become an excuse to delay accession. That would be inexcusable and might suggest that some countries pay little more than lip-service to the reunification of Europe."

The Financial Times says: "[One major] challenge will be for existing EU members to agree on how and when to extend free movement of workers to the accession candidates. Germany and Austria are the two countries most anxious about the effect on their own labor markets. But they must be persuaded to recognize that they are also the two states that have already benefited most from the process towards enlargement and will continue to do so."

The editorial concludes: "All the existing member states will have to make concessions, both political and financial, to pay for enlargement. That is why the process is not easy. But all have stated that it is a political imperative. It is high time the 15 showed the same urgency about the process as the accession candidates."


Writing in the Financial Times from Ankara, Leyla Boulton says in a commentary that Turkey is nowhere near as ready as it says it is. She writes: "The European Commission will challenge Turkey tomorrow to take concrete steps to prepare for membership of the European Union when it publishes a list of reforms expected from Ankara." The writer lists four specific reforms and says that, one, Turkey has done astonishingly little to prepare for them; and, two, will find them difficult to swallow.

Boulton's list: "Continuation of Turkey's 16-year-old moratorium on the death penalty pending its abolition."

"Allowing all citizens equal rights in terms of culture and education and broadcasting."

"Lifting restrictions on freedom of expression and ending torture."

"Curbing the influence of the military in politics through their presence on the National Security Council."


Rachel Denber of Human Rights Watch writes in a commentary in the Wall Street Journal Europe that Europe needs to face up to its duty to condemn Russia on Chechnya. She writes: "Time's up for the European Union on Russia. For months it has dragged its feet, trying to avoid calling Russia to account for its ghastly conduct in Chechnya. When President Vladimir Putin went to Paris last week, the EU should have let him know that there will be hell to pay for this kind of behavior. Alas, the opportunity was wasted."

The commentary says: "EU member states have declined for months to file an interstate complaint against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights. They claim that Russia's human rights envoy to Chechnya, whose staff in the region collects human rights complaints but has no prosecutorial authority, should be given time to prove itself. But we don't need more time to conclude that there is no commission." Denber concludes: "Next month European ministers will descend on Rome to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the European human rights convention. They will be searching for new ways to improve the European system of human rights protection. They would do well to start by using the ones that already exist. European credibility on human rights depends on it."


The Washington Post editorializes on the work of another human rights organization, Amnesty International. The editorial recalls that a London lawyer, Peter Benenson, almost accidentally founded Amnesty International in 1961 as he organized a worldwide appeal for a group of Portuguese students jailed for toasting freedom.

In the days since, the newspaper says, the emphasis has shifted from help for prisoners of conscience to opposition to official torture. The editorial says: "[An Amnesty International] report emphasizes how torture victims are more likely to be disadvantaged than dissident and to have been singled out for their identity."

The newspaper says: "However much people fear crime, they do not sympathize with torture. If the beatings and electric shocks were public knowledge, the police rhetoric that veils brutality would soon wear thin.

"If governments believed that beatings were a justifiable tool of interrogation, they would allow lawyers and observers into the police cells. But they refuse to do so, showing that they know their practices to be indefensible. That moral weakness should hearten human rights campaigners as they take on torture's changing face."


In another Washington Post editorial, the newspaper praises U.S. President Bill Clinton for vetoing legislation that would have treated as criminals people who divulge any classified information. The newspaper says: "Disclosures of defense information made with knowledge that the information will harm the national security can be prosecuted as espionage. Less egregious leaks are typically handled by administrative personnel actions outside the criminal arena. That's as it should be. To criminalize all leaks of classified information would give the executive branch too much power to shroud its business in secrecy."


German commentator Boris Kalnoky writes in Die Welt that the nations of the former Yugoslavia will breathe truly free only if and when Slobodan Milosevic's power is broken in Serbia. Kalnoky says: "A month after a popular coup toppled Slobodan Milosevic's regime, the Yugoslav parliament has entrusted the nation to a new government, an unusual government that comes at a momentous juncture in history -- and a government that looks certain to be the last to rule over all Yugoslavia. That would mark the final demise of the 'Land of South Slavs,' the composite country established after World War One. which has already shrunk to half its size following four wars in the last decade."

The writer says: "Secret-service chief Rade Markovic must take the prize, though. He has been spewing threats against anyone who attempts to replace him -- he has many friends in the mafia who owe him a favor, says Milosevic's erstwhile policeman. And, apparently, these wonderful friends keep asking him who they should bump off. That, says Markovic, should be enough to make anybody who wanted his resignation think again. If confirmation were needed of the old regime's kleptocratic nature, this must be it."

Kalnoky says: "The fact remains, though, that Yugoslavia's new government will never achieve much. The true seat of power rests with the Serb government, in which Milosevic's Socialists block each and every attempt at change. Only after Serbs go to the polls in December will the democratic forces be able to get on with their work unhindered."


The International Herald Tribune today headlines a commentary by David A. Harris "Stop Tolerating Calls for the Slaughter of Jews." Harris is executive director of the American Jewish Committee. He writes: "Not since the 1930s have Jews worldwide been exposed to the kinds of threats that were being vocalized in the streets of major cities in recent weeks. From Washington to Ottawa to Paris, pro-Palestinian demonstrators have repeatedly and chillingly crossed the line of civil protest, chanting in Arabic for the slaughter of Jews."

The writer says: "Western political leaders, shortsightedly, have generally dismissed the verbal threats as mere rhetoric or characterized the attacks carried out to date as random, isolated incidents. They may not be planned by the same source, but the hateful words espoused by religious leaders and the deafening silence of others in the Arab and Muslim communities surely encourage further assaults."

Harris argues: "One of the costly lessons the world should have learned is that words such as these have enormous power. When Hitler wrote Mein Kampf in 1925, calling for the extermination of Jews, few took him seriously. A decade later he began to implement his grotesque plan." The problem, Harris concludes, is everyone's. He writes: "Today's calls for violence threaten not only Jews but also the very foundation and fabric of Western pluralistic societies."