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Western Press Review: Davos, U.S.-Russia, France-Germany

  • Joel Blocker

Prague, 29 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today touches on several subjects. They include the World Economic Forum at Davos in Switzerland, U.S.-Russian relations, France and changing Franco-German relations.

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:

In a commentary for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Juergen Dunsch says the Davos forum this year is in search of a new identity and purpose. He writes: "Faced with the threat of a militant anti-globalization protest, the authorities massively reinforced security measures. That precaution had to be taken, but it also had a strongly perceivable impact on the summit. Davos has lost its innocence."

The commentator notes, too, that the tone of the discussions at Davos this year are what he describes as "totally different" from earlier years. He writes: "The tone of debates on scientific progress, in particular in information and communication technology, is much more sober. The greater attendance of scientists, who could use this opportunity to start a more fruitful dialogue with politicians and business, has contributed to this. At the same time," he notes, "the effects of globalization are also being considered far more critically than only one year ago."

Dunsch continues: "This pushes to the forefront a number of questions: Shouldn't governments and business around the world join in a more determined fight against wealth-averse corruption? A statement, [for example,] from the Russian reform politician Grigory Yavlinsky at Davos provides food for thought: 'Russian corruption is a joint venture with Western financial institutions.'" Perhaps, he argues, "Davos has dismissed the urgency of such discussions for all too long."

"Yet," the commentator points out, "critics who demand swift action also tend to forget that [Davos' structure isn't] exactly conducive to their demands. For the overwhelming majority of participants, this economic summit is still above all an occasion to forge business contacts, garnished with an interesting framework program. It is forgotten all too easily that this annual get-together is above all a private affair. [It] is no decision-making institution and certainly no legislative body."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:

In a news analysis for the International Herald Tribune, Alan Friedman and Tom Buerkle write that "this is the year for Europe at Davos." They say: "After a decade of playing second fiddle to the roaring U.S. economy, Europe may be poised to steal the limelight, mainly because of the American slowdown. Bankers, government officials, economists and business people attending the [forum's annual meeting] speak of an emerging belief that in 2001, Europe may surpass the United States in economic growth."

The analysts go on: "But Europe's rosier prospects are not a sure bet. The region's growth faces potential disruptions from political wrangling, a lack of commitment to reform and a strengthening euro. Still, the apparently brighter European outlook has provoked touchiness among some Americans long used to boasting of U.S. economic domination."

The analysts say further: "To many at the Davos forum, the European growth story for 2001 -- ranging from official forecasts of 3 percent made by the finance ministers of Germany and France to less optimistic projections of around 2.5 percent -- is partly based on real progress in reform efforts and partly a success by default: The U.S. slowdown, which many here say will result in American growth of just 2 percent to 2.5 percent, makes Europe look stronger than it really is."

FINANCIAL TIMES:

Turning to U.S. relations with Russia, Britain's Financial Times says in an editorial: "It is a revealing commentary on the state of Moscow's relations with the rest of the world that the first sensitive Russian issue on the new U.S. administration's agenda has nothing to do with nuclear security, the economy, or human rights. It concerns the extradition case in New York against [Pavel Borodin,] a former top Kremlin official, who faces charges of money-laundering in Switzerland."

Borodin, the paper's editorial notes, "was head of the Kremlin property and business empire when Boris Yeltsin was president. He is now languishing in a New York jail pending a decision on the extradition case. Igor Ivanov, the Russian foreign minister, has called for his 'immediate and unconditional release.'" But the paper emphasizes: "It is important that the legal process should take its course regardless. No one, however well connected in the Russian political firmament, should be seen to be above the law."

The editorial goes on: "[It] is significant that Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has remained conspicuously silent. They were close former associates in the Kremlin administration. Mr. Borodin still has an official job, in charge of relations with neighboring Belarus. Moreover," it adds, "if Mr. Borodin ends up in a Swiss court, he may well produce evidence that would be severely embarrassing to members of the old regime, whatever deals they may have struck with Mr. Putin."

The paper concludes: "If Mr. Putin's refusal to intervene so far is a sign that he is determined to crack down on corruption, that is positive. But it is not yet clear that he is going to be as tough on corruption committed today as he is on that from the old regime. The danger remains that one set of profiteers from the confusion of laws in Russia is simply going to be replaced by another."

WASHINGTON POST:

In the Washington Post, columnist Jim Hoagland discusses the new U.S. administration's emerging new posture toward Russia. He writes: "President George W. Bush will move slowly to engage Vladimir Putin in a working dialogue after shoring up trans-Atlantic relations. Mr. Bush's still unfolding choice to use all deliberate speed in dealing with Moscow is based on sound principles, but it also faces pitfalls. The new administration has to sort out exactly what 'Europe' is in the 21st century. It must also determine what kind of Russia Mr. Putin aims to command. Neither of these tasks," the commentator writes, "is easy."

Hoagland continues: "Mr. Bush and campaign aides promised to pull back from what they saw as intrusive and unproductive U.S. involvement in Russia under Bill Clinton, who assigned top priority to integrating Russia into a global order of free-market democratic nations. Mr. Putin," he says, "can live with less U.S. involvement in Russian affairs. But the Kremlin worries that Mr. Bush is drawing sharp, ideological differences among the world's major nations and consigning Russia to the status of an enemy, potential or current. A worried Mr. Putin has asked friends in the West why Russia is being treated differently."

To meet Putin's concerns, Hoagland suggests, "the [U.S.] president should dispatch Secretary of State Colin Powell to Moscow to deliver a personal message from Mr. Bush to Mr. Putin by the end of March, well before a [new] NATO summit is announced. The Russian leader needs to hear directly from America's top diplomat how the coming pause fits into a strategy that will not automatically consign Russia to a lowly or enemy status." Hoagland sums up: "Getting right, and tight, with friends first is common sense. So is avoiding reinventing the Cold War."

FINANCIAL TIMES:

In a commentary today for the Financial Times, analyst Yves Meny treats the tangled subject of public corruption in France, saying: "Corruption remains a part of France's politics but the system is slowly and inexorably changing." He writes: "Anyone familiar with French politics cannot but be struck by the succession of corruption scandals since the first cases shook the Francois Mitterrand presidency in 1986 and 1988. In spite of seven successive pieces of legislation and hundreds of decrees, measures and circulars of all kinds, the country's elites are seemingly unable to free themselves from controversy."

The commentary continues: "Consider the scandals of recent weeks: Jacques Chirac, the president, has been accused of corrupt practices. Jean-Christophe Mitterrand, the mayor of Paris, son of and adviser on African affairs to the late president, has been jailed. And Roland Dumas, [former foreign minister and] former president of the Constitutional Court, France's highest legal body, has been put on trial. One has to ask: why is there so much corruption in France? And why the inability to cope properly with this enduring problem?"

"Corruption in France is not new," Meny says. "By the end of the 1970s France was run by a narrow, interlocking elite that circulated at will among the top echelons of business, the public sector and the state." But, he notes, "by the end of the 1980s, [all] the factors that had contributed to the growth of corruption were coming under challenge. First of all, the press had changed its attitude. Not only did the economic press and the newspapers of the right, such as Le Figaro, adopt a more questioning attitude to the socialist government, but [the left-of-center] Le Monde began to pursue allegations of corruption, publishing its findings and holding those responsible to account, regardless of their status or political affiliation."

"The result," he concludes, "is a process of reform that is slow yet hectic and full of unexpected developments: Politicians and parties are discredited with voters, populist outbursts are commonplace and electoral participation is in decline. The bad news is that this turmoil still has some way to go and that for France's leaders, parties and institutions, the costs will be high. The good news is that change is unstoppable."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:

Guenther Nonnenmacher, writing in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, discusses the current troubled state of Franco-German relations. He rejects the notion that they "need to be redefined, as is sometimes said. They are based," he says, "on firm foundations that have been consolidated over the course of decades. Any attempt to alter them essentially would amount to demolition and impede any kind of reconstruction."

But, Nonnenmacher goes on, "that does not mean that relations between France and Germany are without their problems. A debate on the future of Franco-German relations has been overdue since the end of the East-West divide and German unification changed the face of Europe. Now," he adds, "as in the past, this means that the momentum for bilateral ties must grow from shared ideas on European policy. The construction site known as the European Union will remain in the 21st century a major project in which France and Germany have a vital interest. The half-year of France's EU presidency, culminating in the [December] 'showdown' in Nice, tells what a hard time the two sides are having of it."

This week's meeting (31 January) between French and German leaders in Strasbourg, the commentator says, will "find no magic formula to dispel bilateral problems or differences on European policy. [German Foreign Minister Joschka] Fischer's speech last year on his vision of Europe aroused more displeasure in France than was officially acknowledged. Mr. Fischer's relationship with [his French counterpart, Hubert] Vedrine has cooled perceptibly. France's ruling Socialists dismissed [President Jacques] Chirac's speech [last year] to the German parliament as personal opinion. The reasons for this may lie mainly in French domestic politics, but it was still a rude awakening for Mr. Chirac's German hosts."

Nonnenmacher concludes: "It would be a bad thing if the Strasbourg meeting were to end up a photo [opportunity] without consequences." Rather, he urges, "[in] Strasbourg, or after the meeting, a list of differences between Berlin and Paris must be drawn up and then dealt with point by point. It will be a tough process, complete with arguments and setbacks. Yet productive argument is always better than trying to hide differences of opinion by obscuring them with symbolic gestures and clouds of incense

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