Prague, 22 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today focuses on yesterday's presidential elections in Paris, in which right-wing National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen unexpectedly pulled ahead of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. Le Pen now faces incumbent front-runner Jacques Chirac in a run-off on 5 May.
Other discussion today centers on opening Europe to its southern neighbors; the Srebrenica report's revelations of U.S. dealings in Bosnia-Herzegovina; the apparent rise of anti-Semitism in Europe; the Middle East; and events in Afghanistan.
The surprise ascendancy of National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen to challenge incumbent President Jacques Chirac in the second round of French elections on May 5 has sparked a surge of national soul-searching.
The left-leaning daily "Liberation" responded to the events with a one-word headline today: "Non." Within its pages, an editorial by Serge July says the French political system, having been imbalanced for years, has finally imploded. He says the issue of security played a major role in the election upset. Chirac opened a Pandora's box by focusing his "monothematic" campaign on security in the past few months. The man seen as his main challenger, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, underestimated the importance of the security issue and chose to let Chirac take the lead on this topic, until Jospin lost all sense of what set him apart from his rival.
July says that given the rise of insecurity among French voters -- over policy confusion, globalization, the influence and future of the European Union, the decentralization of national power, and also of daily life -- Le Pen's brand of authoritarianism stood to gain much.
Chirac and Le Pen were judged most capable of dealing with these concerns. "All reality was seen through the prism of insecurity," says July. He remarks that France "is a confused, terrified country, afraid of its own shadows" -- and which, politically, is not able to face the future.
The success in the French elections of Jean-Marie Le Pen is a "master feat and a catastrophe for the left," says Gerd Kroencke in Germany's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung." This "political earthquake," which nobody anticipated, has shaken France, he says.
Le Pen's nationalists used their last chance well and are the real victors in the first round of the presidential elections, he says, although incumbent President Jacques Chirac took first place.
Kroencke describes Chirac's victory as a "sad triumph." He succeeded in instilling people with a sense of insecurity and fear, which gained him votes but -- above all -- drove other voters into the Le Pen camp.
Not all those who cast their votes for Le Pen are far-right extremists, says Kroencke. Many of them merely feel insecure in an environment that is ever-more populated by immigrants.
As for the Socialists, Kroencke says bitter times are ahead for them. Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin finished third in the voting and therefore will not take part in the two-candidate runoff on May 5. He did not deserve such a fate, says Kroencke, but then, history is not always just.
Those who have leftist political leanings are suddenly isolated, and the only hopeful prospects are parliamentary elections in June, when all the left can hope for is that its sympathizers will wake up.
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
In the "International Herald Tribune," columnist Philip Bowring says the conference taking place in Valencia, Spain, today and tomorrow between EU foreign ministers and 12 southern Mediterranean governments is an exception to Europe's practice of mostly ignoring its southern neighbors.
The south's share of EU and global trade has been falling, he says, and the weakness of its links to Europe has been a major factor in its slow economic growth. The lack of closer cooperation between the EU and its southern neighbors "is particularly stark at a time when illegal immigration is such a hot issue in Europe. The EU's rapidly aging population will continue to create demand for foreign labor," he says. "[The] urgency today and the outlook for tomorrow demand that EU countries make a far greater effort to bring the region into their orbit."
Bowring notes the southern Mediterranean "is a natural trading area, with populations close to the sea and with easy access to Europe. Rapid progress is possible. Policy changes and European capital could put populations to work and kick-start trade-led modernization," he suggests.
Bowring says that although southern governments are largely responsible for their failure to grow economically, the EU "must draw this region into its orbit for the sake of the economic and social stability on both shores." This, he says, "will require political will backed by much money and acceptance of more agricultural imports."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)