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Western Press Review:Commentary Tying Up Loose Ends

  • Don Hill

Prague, 19 December 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. elections, the Nice EU summit and the threat of Mad Cow disease have reached a finish line -- or at least a rest stop -- and Western press commentary today examines recent events with a critical pen.


The Wall Street Journal Europe editorializes today that German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder sounds as though he wishes to turn an enlarged EU into a version of Orwell's "Animal Farm" in which "some animals are more equal than others." Schroeder, says the newspaper, proposes "second class membership for the dozen countries that are negotiating to join the European Union.

The newspaper says, "Specifically, Mr. Schroeder wants new member-states to wait up to seven years before their citizens can enjoy one of membership's key advantages, the right to seek jobs in other EU countries. In other words, Germany would continue to welcome workers from France or Italy or any other country that's currently a member of the EU, but would shut out workers from the dozen aspiring member-states, mostly in Eastern Europe. So much for the much-vaunted borderless EU. This is mean-spirited at best. [Schroeder's] is a two-class system, with Western Europe riding club class and the East Europeans consigned to coach."


Commentator John Vanocur, writing in the International Herald Tribune, says that is not the only way in which Germany seems to be building a sense of its own hegemony in the new Europe. He writes: "Germany has emerged from the Nice summit of the European Union with a reinforced sense of its preeminence in Europe, partly at the expense of France." The writer says: "The Sueddeutsche Zeitung, which has good relations with the Schroeder government, reported in a lead editorial that the chancellor now regards post-Nice Germany as emancipated from France. This is a sharp-edged and perhaps artless formulation, but there has been no public attempt by Mr. Schroeder's office to suggest it is wildly inaccurate. The tone was not much different when Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, referring to the Nice meeting, told the Bundestag's commission on Europe Friday that Germany had no intention of handing over Europe's smaller states to France 'as if France were Europe's King Kong.'"


The Nice summit was, at least from the European Parliament's point of view, a disappointment. So says Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in an editorial. It says: "The heads of state and government fell well short of their own objectives. The introduction of staggered voting in the Council of Ministers (according to weighted votes and size of population) and the new rules on qualified majority potentially create more opportunities to obstruct business than in the past. Moreover, the Parliament itself got pretty short shrift at this reform conference -- so it is no wonder that many MEPs (that is, members of parliament) in Strasbourg are threatening to reject the Nice Treaty."

The editorial says parliament is likely to display no more than "meek defiance," however: "as has happened so often in its history, the European Parliament will defiantly stamp its foot, and then meekly approve the Nice Treaty."


Britain's Financial Times addresses another European dilemma: to isolate Turkey or surrender to it. In an editorial, the newspaper sums up the basic issue thus: "Turkey is refusing to allow the EU's planned rapid reaction force 'assured access' to NATO's military planning staff unless [the Turkish government] is part of the decision to deploy it." The editorial says: "What Turkey has demanded amounts to membership of the EU in defense matters. The EU cannot agree to this. But instead, it has offered close consultation up to and after the point of decision, especially in crises in its own region. [Turkey] should sign up to a deal of lasting benefit to European security."


Now that the United States finally has a president-elect, German commentator Stefan Ulrich writes bluntly in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung: "Europe would have voted for Al Gore." Ulrich writes: "The next man to head the United States is someone French Education Minister Jack Lang has called a 'murderer.' [Bush's] tendency to approve of executions, inexperience on the foreign policy front and America-first rhetoric make the Texan a suspect character for many Europeans."

Ulrich says, however, that Bush's election actually presages good for Europe in that it will force Europeans to slip farther out from under U.S. domination. The times of European dependence are over, the writer says. Ulrich: "The Europeans -- especially the Germans -- have become more self-confident. One clear sign of this is the European Union's plans to put together its own army, and its wrangling with [the U.S. government] over the proposed force's autonomy. This conflict will be exacerbated under the new president."


The New York Times criticizes a foreign policy goal set by president-elect George W. Bush, namely building a national missile defense system.

The newspaper says: "The incoming Bush Administration risks making an early mistake if it rushes to build a national missile defense. A hasty move in this area could quickly deplete the good will generally accorded a new president by foreign leaders, especially those of Russia, China and Washington's main European allies. George W. Bush should instead expand research and testing to determine what kind of defensive shield can best meet America's security needs."

The editorial concludes: "Mr. Bush's foreign policy advisers have been around Washington long enough to know that few initial steps would be more divisive abroad than a decision to move ahead with installation of a missile defense system. Colin Powell, the prospective secretary of state, and Condoleezza Rice, the future national security adviser, also recognize that construction of even a limited system would cost tens of billions of dollars. Until the technology is perfected, there is no point in incurring these diplomatic and financial costs."


New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman worries that the new U.S. administration will bring an old perspective to international policy. He writes: "After all, a lot has changed since the "Bushies" (people who served under former president George Bush) were last in office eight years ago. The world has moved from a cold-war system, in which our biggest threats and opportunities flowed from whom we were divided from and which was symbolized by the Berlin Wall, to a globalization system, in which our threats and opportunities now tend to flow from whom we're connected to, and which is symbolized by the World Wide Web."

The commentator concludes: "Every administration gets tested by an unanticipated crisis. My guess is that the test for the new Bush team will come from this whirlwind of rapid change -- both the enormous pressure it puts on new democracies and the backlash it produces from traditional societies. Mr. Bush has appointed serious people to wrestle with this. Their serious test awaits."


Wolfgang Roth, in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, discusses the third issue on which Western commentators are focused -- after EU leaders, and the U.S. president. He describes what could be labeled "The Mad Cow Paradox." The writer says: "Quick tests for BSE, or mad cow disease, have been mandatory in Germany for a few days, and what is now happening is just what was to be expected according to the old maxim 'seek and ye shall find.'"

Roth says that at first Germany declined to look seriously for Mad Cow Disease in its barns and pastures. But having identified a case and possibly several others, Germany now is searching diligently.

The writer says: "That is the most dire part of the whole situation. The risk of somehow coming into contact with an infected animal was probably greater in the past; it must have decreased by now because of better overall precautionary measures, even if those are not as stringent as some European countries needed. But despite the lower risk, the fear of BSE will now be more powerful than ever - because we are now finding what Germany did not want to look for previously."