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Western Press Review: EU Summit In Nice; Politics In Iraq And Romania

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 6 December 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Our selection from the Western press includes several commentaries on the European Union's summit in Nice, France, which begins tomorrow. The three-day meeting is critical to the EU's efforts to effect key internal reforms before the 15-nation group begins its projected expansion to the east. There are also comments today on Iraq and Romania.


The Irish Times, in an editorial says that agreements on "the issues at stake in the EU Inter-Governmental Conference set to conclude at Nice this weekend [will] be crucial in determining how effectively the EU deals with the forthcoming enlargement that will nearly double its membership. They will also alter the balance between existing members in the [European] Commission and the [member-states'] Council of Ministers as regards representation, voting rights and methods. This will raise important questions of legitimacy and accessibility."

Changes in all these sensitive areas, the paper goes on to say, "will not be completely accomplished at Nice, assuming a treaty is agreed there. Another, more ambitious agenda, concerning the overall political and constitutional shape of the EU system, will almost certainly be required in several years' time."

The editorial also says: "The French EU presidency has left itself little time and scope to reach a package deal at Nice, with so many issues still outstanding. But it was always expected to be a last-minute affair and President [Jacques] Chirac and the prime minister, [Lionel] Jospin, have major political incentives to preside over a successful outcome. Whether it is genuinely so, must be judged on the basis that the EU is given a real capacity to double its membership and remain an effective force in European and world affairs."


France's role in achieving agreement on key EU reforms is also the subject of a commentary by Jacques Schuster in the German daily Die Welt. Writing from Paris, Schuster argues that "France [sometimes] is its own worst enemy." He notes that President Chirac, "ever-anxious of growing German influence, has opposed the necessary reform of voting powers in the EU Council of Ministers [proposed by Germany]. In defense of this stance," the commentator says, "it appears Chirac is even prepared to risk sabotaging what is without question the most important EU summit of recent years. The potential consequences of failure in Nice for the EU and the fate of eastern and central Europe apparently do not concern the president."

Schuster continues: "[In recent years,] Germany's behavior toward France has had to change. In an expanding Europe, Germany's interests are not always compatible with those of its French neighbors -- for example, when it comes to eastern Europe. Despite this shift," he adds, "even if [German Chancellor] Gerhard Schroeder shows up in Nice willing to compromise as much as his predecessors, any unity and peace he could achieve with this stance would inevitably be short-lived."

For the commentator, "Germany's conflict with France goes deeper -- there is a psychological dimension to it. The French have yet to come to terms with the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the growing weight of Germany at the heart of Europe afflicts the French like a national disease." He concludes: "Both nations need each other. But France must cease begrudging Germany its influence -- its birthright on account of the size of it population. France has to compromise if Europe is to stay strong. Nice presents it with the ideal opportunity."


In Britain, the Daily Telegraph also supports what it calls "justice for Germany" in the EU's planned reweighting of votes in the Council of Ministers, one of the critical issues to be dealt with at Nice. The paper writes of the apparently irreconcilable difference between France and Germany. [President Chirac,]" it says, "argues that the 'inviolable equality' between the two nations has been the foundation of peace on the continent after the First and Second World Wars. Chancellor Schroeder sees the present system, where a country with 82 million people [that is, Germany] has the same number of council votes as one with [more than] 58 million [France], as 'scandalously undemocratic.'"

The editorial goes on to argue: "To restrict Germany to the same vote weight as before reunification is to disfranchise what was East Berlin and the five eastern Laender. The French claim that their parity with their neighbor is sanctified by a conversation between [EU founder] Jean Monnet and [first postwar German chancellor] Konrad Adenauer in 1951, by the [Franco-German] Elysee Treaty of 1963 and by Helmut Kohl's promise to Francois Mitterrand [in the early 1990s] that greater EU representation for an enlarged Germany would be limited to a rise in the number of its [members in the EU's parliament]."

"Yet," the paper says, "those agreements were made with German leaders who had lived through the Hitlerzeit [the Hitler era] and were keen that the country should be so bound to Europe that recidivism became impossible. Mr. Schroeder, it notes, "is of a later generation, which sees no reason why Germany, after more than 50 years of federal democracy, should continue to be shackled by the ghosts of the past. His demand on re-weighting is in fact modest: an increase which would be more symbolic than fully reflecting the fact that Germany's population exceeds that of France by more than [30] per cent."


In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger calls on participants in the Nice summit not to forget what he calls "the big picture." In a commentary, Frankenberger writes: "The really decisive question [is] whether what is finally presented as 'the compromise' after days and nights of controversial debate [at Nice] will be sufficient for governing, taking decisions and acting effectively in a community of 20, 25 or even 30 members. Doubts," he adds, "exist and have accompanied this round of reform talks from the outset, because its agenda was considered too narrow and too undemanding, [and because settlement on key issues to be discussed] will at best strengthen the EU's capacity for enlargement in the short term."

The commentary continues: "The cohesion and success of the larger community do not really depend on whether the Commission has 20 or 22 members or whether another 30 largely non-controversial areas are decided by majority votes. What should really be debated is the future role of the Commission, the position of the Council of Ministers and the status of the European Parliament -- and national parliaments." It says further: "The question that should animate Europeans is how the community views itself and what its purpose should be in the 21st century, not to haggle over a couple of votes. [The overriding question is] what the purpose and objectives of the European Union are and the system of government that realizing them requires."

That question, Frankenberger says, will make only what he calls a brief "stopover" in Nice. "The real institutional debate," he writes, will begin after Nice. It will, he concludes, "be about how to govern an enlarged Europe, how to combine democracy and effectiveness -- without losing the support of the people in the process. [Only] if the community conducts and concludes that debate will it avert its own dilution and fragmentation."


The German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung carries a commentary on Iraq's leader, Saddam Hussein. Writing from Cairo, correspondent Heiko Flottau says: "Saddam Hussein is back -- at least in Gaza and Ramallah. People's hearts have been warming to the international outcast and the huge sums of money he has been spending on them. Even better, he pays cash." Flottau comments: "Saddam may have spent the last 10 years in international quarantine, but he is now stepping out in style and donating $10,000 to each and every [Palestinian] martyr's family. In Palestinian-Arabic jargon, a martyr is a man who has died in the war against Israel."

The commentary goes on: "Saddam has made available a total of $5 million to the Palestinians -- despite his constant complaints about the devastating effects the United Nations' sanctions are having on his country. His Palestinian representatives distribute the money to the martyrs' families personally because Saddam -- as is true of other Arabic leaders -- does not trust Yasser Arafat's autonomous authority. Money delivered to the authority's address," the commentator notes, "tends to end up in the pockets of many of Arafat's compliant helpers."

Saddam, Flottau says, "has used the suffering of the people he rules over to serve his own ends. He threw the UN weapons inspectors out of the country in 1998, but this also meant postponing an end to the sanctions almost indefinitely. If intelligence agencies' reports are to be believed, he has once again started work on the manufacture of missiles and other banned weapons."

The commentator adds: "Barely a single foreign aircraft has landed at the airport in Baghdad -- named after Saddam, of course -- in the last 10 years. Yet since the end of the summer, Arab countries have been falling over each other to be first and foremost in paying their respects to the Iraqis. Those who choose not to show their face are going to find themselves being left far behind -- this is what has become of war-torn Iraq."


In an editorial today, the Washington Post comments on Romania's upcoming second-round presidential election. The paper writes: "Romania -- a Central European country that for a decade has tried and failed to win the favor of the democratic West -- is now facing a terrible choice: Its presidential election runoff on Sunday (Dec 10) matches a 70-year-old ex-Communist who was voted out of office four years ago against a fanatical nationalist who threatens to make Romania Serbia's successor as a Balkan rogue state. With Ion Iliescu, the former Communist, the editorial says, "Romania's desperately poor population can expect a paternalistic prolongation of policies that have left it miserably stranded between Stalinist socialism and market capitalism. The election of Corneliu Vadim Tudor, by contrast, would isolate Romania completely from the West and could plunge it into internal conflict or even war with its neighbors."

The editorial goes on: "Mr. Tudor, a pamphleteer who once served as a sycophantic court poet for Romania's Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, is arguably the most serious political menace yet to appear in the post-communist countries of central and eastern Europe. His campaign was based on attacks on 'the Gypsy Mafia' -- also known as Romania's large Roma minority -- along with ethnic Hungarians and Jews."

The paper adds: "Romania's fractured but frantic political elite, forced into a stop-Tudor alliance, is warning voters that his victory would shut down the country's hopes of integration with western Europe. But Romanians could hardly be blamed for wondering whether that goal is illusory anyway. Though it has eagerly sought membership in NATO and the European Union, Romania has been rebuffed by both -- the latest EU report says that, at best, Bucharest might hope for admittance by 2007."