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Western Press Review: EU, Balkans, Press Freedom

  • Khatya Chhor
  • Dora Slaba

Prague, 1 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in today's Western press addresses a number of topics, with the future of the European Union and the situation in the Balkans receiving particular attention. Commentators also look at freedom of the press in Russia.


An editorial in the "Financial Times" examines Britain's future role in the European Union in the light of the country's upcoming parliamentary elections. The paper writes: "European issues will loom large for the next government. [Enlargement] should be under way, with all the consequent issues of regional funding, agricultural subsidies, and labor mobility. [Britain] cannot pursue its national interests in these areas without a constructive approach." The editorial adds: "Fighting old battles, token confrontation, or denying there is ever any benefit to pooling sovereignty would be a sure route to a less influential Britain."

The paper suggests that Britain should follow a policy of what it calls "constructive engagement" to advance its national interests. It writes: "Britain cannot escape the basic truth that its prosperity and security are inextricably tied to decisions made on the continent of Europe. It must play a full part in shaping those decisions."


"Unity in Greed" is the title of a commentary on the EU by Andreas Oldag in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung." He notes that money was the underlying issue that recently moved Spain to stall a proposal to defer for seven years the freedom of labor movement of future Union members. Although this hurdle has since been overcome, Oldag says that financial considerations remain uppermost in the minds of all EU members. "It is becoming ever more clear," he writes. "The Eastern enlargement project [designed to] overcome the decades-long division of the Continent has no solid financial backing."

"Instead," the commentator continues, "the EU is pursuing a reckless strategy in its medium-term financial plans. Whereas the safeguard of their current economic status takes first place among the old members, the poor Eastern neighbors are being denied the [same] right."

The commentary says each current EU member has a particular axe to grind. He notes that European Commission President Romano Prodi this week put forward suggestions on how to conduct financial matters. But according to Oldag, the Prodi plan has a serious failing: "[Prodi's proposals] dealt with money coming in, not money expended. [His proposed new] tax will cause EU politicians to make rash promises." Oldag concludes: "Reforms are essential if enlargement is to be built on a solid financial basis."


Nikolaus Nowak, in "Die Welt," also comments -- if quite briefly -- on Spain's recent behavior within the EU, saying it could set a precedent. He writes that the compromise eventually reached was "a step in the right direction, even though the limitation of labor movement demanded by the Germans is questionable. The case of Spain," he adds, "also shows that obstinacy cannot achieve anything. [Spain's] retraction [of its demands] indicates progress for Europe."


A column by William Pfaff for the "Los Angeles Times" syndicate (published in the "International Herald Tribune") looks at recent proposals by French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder for the future structure of the EU. Schroeder proposes, Pfaff says, a "Europe of German political institutions writ large [and] a stronger European Parliament controlling Europe's budget." Jospin's ideal Europe, in contrast, is a federation of nation-states existing "under a constitution built around a European bill of rights."

Pfaff notes that Jospin described his vision as "offering the world a model of democracy different from that of the United States, whose capitalist system he called brutal, and whose human rights record, and recent unilateralist military and foreign policy initiatives, he deplored." The commentator says that while the two nations exert significant influence within the Union, "the leaders [of Germany and France] are also projecting onto the European Union contrasting national experiences and ambitions. [Neither] the German nor the French version of the European future articulates what the other members want. The eventual shape of the Union," he sums ups, "will come out of a 15-nation debate."


A commentary by Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" looks at the concessions made yesterday by the Macedonian government to some of the demands of the country's ethnic Albanian minority. He says that it can be assumed that NATO and the EU played a role in the policy shift of the Macedonian government and that such cooperation remains vital to resolution of the conflict. Frankenberger writes: "The [Macedonian] leadership's offer of a partial amnesty and a constitutional amendment goes a long way. But nobody who has seen firsthand how the distrust between the Slavic Macedonians and the Albanian Macedonians has deepened into open enmity will dare predict whether that will satisfy the Albanian extremists and whether peaceful politics will be able to regain the upper hand over the logic of violence."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" today looks at the situation in the Balkans and considers what role the United States should continue to play in the region. The "Post" writes that the Bush administration is carrying on with a "minimalist approach to U.S. engagement in the region that has repeatedly proved a failure during the past decade. [It] has been literally and figuratively absent from the region. The clear message [the administration] sends is that it is hoping to confine its Balkan policy to arranging U.S. troop withdrawals."

The paper writes that, to the contrary, the U.S. is "needed in the region more than ever." It adds that the Bush administration's reluctance to commit "diplomatic energy and capital" to the Balkans follows the blueprint of previous U.S. presidential administrations, who "tried to avoid involvement in Balkan conflicts and hand off their mediation to the Europeans. The result," the paper says, "was bloody wars in Bosnia and Kosovo that ended only after U.S.-led military campaigns." The paper concludes that re-adopting such a policy is "repeating, rather than learning from, the mistakes of the past decade."


A commentary in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" by Vitomir Miles Raguz, former Bosnia-Herzegovina ambassador to the EU and NATO, looks at the Dayton peace accord and suggests that it needs to be revised to deal with the developments since its adoption in 1995. "Until now," he writes, "any suggestion of revisiting Dayton was considered 'heresy.'" He notes that Wolfgang Petritsch, Bosnia's top international official, has "placed Brussels in the forefront of the debate over revisiting Dayton, and perhaps into conflict with Washington -- which has officially considered the subject closed and refused to hear of any discussions whatsoever."

Raguz writes: "If Brussels were to join the debate on this issue, no doubt the State Department would not like tinkering with what it perceives as its own project." He adds that while the State Department is "motivated to protect the Dayton legacy of Richard Holbrooke, the new White House would just as soon forget it."

Raguz concludes that "past statements by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and more recent remarks by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about the future U.S. troop presence in [the] Balkans suggest that many in Washington would prefer that Brussels take the lead in [Bosnia-Herzegovina] as soon as possible, even if that means Dayton disappears from the political jargon altogether."


An article published in "The Washington Post" by former newspaper publisher Herman Obermayer looks at journalism in Russia and the problems it faces in maintaining independence from the state. He writes: "Of the 2,700 regional and rural newspapers in Russia, more than 95 percent are government mouthpieces owned by municipalities, counties, or small republics. They are part of the power structure by which mayors and governors maintain their autocratic power. Virtually none is economically independent."

He says that while this situation would seem intolerable in the West, that "most Russians don't know what they are missing. [Russians] have no institutional memory of independent, objective newspapers." Many Russian journalists, he adds, "think it is proper to accept payment from an outside source for a news story. [This] is perhaps the biggest taboo among U.S. journalists. But Russian journalists consider it fair compensation for value received."

Obermayer suggests that in order to encourage objectivity in Russia's media sector, expense-paid trips to the U.S. for journalists and students should be offered to enable them to observe other media. He writes: "Western-style newspapers and broadcast outlets will not succeed in post-communist Russia if young journalists don't know what a 'free press' really means. As long as it's a foreign concept in Russia," he concludes, "democracy will be also."