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Western Press Review: EU Reform, UN Policy, Chirac, Balkans

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 12 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today looks at various topics, including European Union reform, UN policy, and the accusations of financial misdeeds leveled at French President Jacques Chirac. Commentary also focuses on the Balkans, as Macedonia maintains a tenuous cease-fire and Croatia moves closer to cooperating with The Hague tribunal regarding the extradition of two of its generals.


An editorial in the "Financial Times" calls the EU's current finance system "a mess." It writes: "Over the next few years there will be intense discussion about the future role and shape of the Union. It must be accompanied by a rigorous analysis of how it spends, and raises, money."

The editorial adds: "In the next two years the EU must also discuss how to reform the common agricultural policy and redirect structural funds to poorer members. To succeed, it must redesign the budgetary process. Otherwise, governments will always put their short-term financial interests before longer-term reforms."

The paper suggests: "A fairer method of financing may be for member-states simply to make a contribution according to their national wealth. But constructing such a system is not as easy as it may look. What is essential, though, is that the Union looks as hard at cutting unnecessary spending [as] it does at the way it raises revenue."


A news analysis by Richard Baldwin in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" suggests that the Nice Treaty -- which paves the way for EU eastern expansion -- needs to be ratified, and then repaired, in order to "prevent the European ideal from being bogged down in bureaucratic paralysis."

Baldwin writes, "The inefficiency in the Nice Treaty system stems from a combination of adding 12 new Council members and raising the majority threshold from 71 percent of Council votes to 74 percent," which makes it more difficult for voting ministers to reach a consensus. He adds that although reforms that reweigh voting power do increase efficiency -- since they concentrate power in the hands of a few large members -- this "is not enough to counter the anti-efficiency effects. [In addition,] any further concentration of power would clearly threaten the system's democratic legitimacy. [It is] certain that Nice failed to solve the decision deadlock problem," he writes.

The way forward, Baldwin says, "is a lowering of the [voting] majority thresholds; the 74 percent threshold on Council votes should be lowered to two-thirds and the population threshold should be lowered from 62 percent to one-half. This would restore efficiency without further weakening small member [nations]."


A news analysis by Peter Hort in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" comments on the decision-making role of the European Commission and, in particular, of its president, Romano Prodi. According to the Rome Treaty, the commission wields a great deal of power that influences the whole legislative process. A recent example is the rejection of the merger of two corporate giants -- General Electric and Honeywell -- because this would render the combined company anti-competitive, since worldwide sales are over 5 billion euros ($4.3 billion).

However, Hort says, "The president of the commission provides the best example of how power and powerless exist side by side in the long and winding corridors of Brussels." In fact, he says, Prodi is at the beck and call of the EU's 15 heads of state and government; they are the true rulers of the community. Hort adds that in the wrangling over the EU's eastward enlargement the commission president "must cultivate diplomatic discretion; he needs to keep on good terms with the European heads of state," in which endeavor he has recently -- but not always -- succeeded.

Hort advises: "Prodi must tread carefully. Given the disjoined power structures of the European Union, the president must take care not to undermine his own authority or his political clout by making unguarded statements."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" enthusiastically commends the release of a UN Development Program report entitled "Making New Technologies Work for Human Development." The editorial calls the report "a welcome about-face" for the UN organization that deviates from the so-called "precautionary principle" that it instituted last year, which the paper says established "cumbersome regulatory procedures for genetically modified foods."

"The Journal" quotes UNDP administrator Mark Malloch Brown as saying: "These varieties [of food crops] have 50 percent higher yields, mature 30 to 50 days earlier, are substantially richer in protein, are far more disease- and drought-tolerant, resist insect pests and can even outcompete weeds. [This] initiative shows the enormous potential of biotech to improve food security in Africa, Asia and Latin America." To which the editorial unreservedly responds: "Hallelujah!"


An editorial in "The New York Times" looks at this week's UN conference on small arms trafficking and says that U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton, in a "shameless subordination of diplomacy to domestic political pandering, [told] the gathering that Washington would not support an agreement to curb the international flow of illicit small arms if it infringed on the right of Americans to bear arms."

The editorial says that the UN conference aimed to "produce a modest set of global standards and tracing methods that could help curtail the illicit flow of weapons that magnify civil wars, arm child soldiers and militia gangs, and expand the power of organized crime."

It further notes that the conference's proposals would not have been legally binding on any nation, and writes: "[By] signaling its skepticism about small arms curbs, Washington may have stalled what little momentum there was toward broader international cooperation against the small arms trade. [Bolton's] speech affords political cover for other major weapons producers like Russia and China that have been recalcitrant about effective international curbs."


An editorial in the "Financial Times" looks at the allegations facing French President Jacques Chirac, which assert that he used a system of secret funds available to the government for personal and family travel between 1992-1995, when he was still the mayor of Paris. The editorial notes that on 11 July, judges questioned Claude Chirac, the president's daughter and media counselor.

This development follows a decision by the Paris public prosecutor, Jean-Pierre Dintilhac, who the paper says "refused to accept a prominent legal opinion concluding that Mr. Chirac, as a head of state, could not be called as a witness." The editorial says that in light of these events, "the judicial attack is [now] on two fronts -- picking on the president's inner circle and challenging his immunity from the courts."

This system of secret governmental funds, which is designed to make up out-of-pocket expenses, has been used to top up salaries and pay bonuses, the paper writes, adding: "But in the long run it adds to growing public skepticism about the probity of the French political class and weakens Mr. Chirac's credibility. [Until] the 69-year-old president has given a better account of himself to the French public, he risks being badly handicapped in his bid to retain the presidency."


Another editorial in the "Financial Times" says that in deciding whether to hand over two of its generals to The Hague, Croatia "has reached a turning point. [This] will be an important test of the country's commitment to human rights and the rule of law."

The paper continues: "The government has already approved the move [to extradite] but on Sunday (15 July) it faces a no-confidence motion in parliament, amid rising public tension about the issue. Croatians should back their government," the paper says, adding: "The country has no sensible alternatives to cooperation with the European Union and the U.S. The price of that cooperation is collaboration with The Hague, as Ivica Racan, the prime minister, has realized."


An analysis by "The Washington Post" writer Peter Finn looks at the ongoing negotiations in Macedonia. He writes: "U.S. and European mediators have written the script for a permanent political settlement here [and] are twisting the arms of local leaders to accept it. [Political] leaders and legal experts on each side are responding to the Western document separately. And after those responses, the document's terms are massaged by Western legal experts and re-presented to the Macedonians and Albanians -- again separately."

Western diplomats, Finn writes, "are attempting to forge a solution that each side can sell as a victory to its radicalized constituencies. As an incentive, the United States and European Union are promising [aid]." He adds that the envoys "hope to persuade the Macedonian government that the document's proposals are relatively painless for their side."

He quotes a Western diplomat, who asked to remain anonymous, as saying: "At a certain point, the Albanians will have to hear that this is it -- this is the best they're going to get. [And] the Macedonians will have to know that it's not going to get any worse than this. The Macedonians want to know this is the end of the game."