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Western Press Review: EU Expansion, Tensions In Georgia, European Defense Strategy, And Iraq

The EU's impending enlargement is being discussed in the international press Prague, 26 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- As 10 new nations get set to join the European Union on 1 May, several news dailies begin the week with a look at how Europe will change when it expands to 25 member countries stretching from the Baltics to the Mediterranean. Other discussion centers on the continuing conflict in Georgia between Tbilisi and the semi-autonomous province of Adjaria, the impotence of European defense strategies, a failed UN plan to reunite Cyprus, and how the "moral compass" of U.S. policy has gone astray.


Anthony Browne writes from Bratislava saying, "Amid the wheat fields of Slovakia, the de-industrialization of Western Europe is gathering pace." Although Slovakia will be one of Europe's poorest members when it joins the EU on 1 May, it is already being seen as a likely recipient of huge amounts of foreign investment and manufacturing plants.

Slovakia currently has a Volkswagen factory producing 250,000 cars annually, is building a Peugeot plant that will churn out 300,000 cars a year and will soon host Hyundai's first European manufacturer. By 2007, Slovakia "will be producing 850,000 cars a year, making it by far the largest car producer in the world per capita."

But the expected post-expansion manufacturing boom is not limited to cars, nor will it just affect Slovakia. "With extremely low wages and very low taxes, the new Eastern European members of the EU are attracting more foreign investment per capita than China," Browne says. The region's central location in Europe reduces transport costs and its highly skilled work force offers an additional incentive to investors.

Browne says the average cost "of employing a factory worker in Slovakia is about a tenth of that in Germany and the U.K. In an attempt to attract more investment, Slovakia has reduced its tax on company profits and personal incomes to a flat rate of 19 percent." Estonia, also set to join the EU in May, has completely abolished corporate tax on profits.

But the EU's Western members have started to complain, pointing out that such policies make it difficult for these nations to fund their own infrastructure projects, which will eventually make them dependent on Brussels to do so -- a policy that some say is simply unsustainable.


The paper's Nick Paton says Georgia "was drawn to the brink of civil war" yesterday when President Mikheil Saakashvili threatened to use force to reassert control over the semi-autonomous Adjaria region. A "simmering feud" between the president and regional leader Aslan Abashidze threatened to boil over when Saakashvili called upon the people of Adjaria not to obey the curfew and state of emergency Abashidze declared on 24 April. While the Georgian president denied that military conflict was imminent, he pledged to liberate the region from Abashidze's "criminal regime," using force if necessary. He called it Tbilisi's "duty" to free the region from Abashidze's rule.

Abashidze retains control through the use of a private army and has been accused of suppressing political opponents, while resisting Tbilisi's efforts to re-establish central authority over the province. On 23 April, the Georgian Parliament authorized Saakashvili to take legal action in Adjaria and move to disarm illegal armed groups. Paton says it was the first time Saakashvili has "sought parliamentary authority to take military action against Ajara," and thus the move "prompted high-level speculation of an invasion." But Paton says it was merely the latest in an "acrimonious months-long standoff" between the rival regional leaders.


"If diplomacy is the art of the possible, the United Nations tried to do the impossible in its plan to reunite the torn Mediterranean of Cyprus," says the "Monitor" in an editorial today. A 24 April referendum saw a UN-brokered plan to reunite the island accepted by two-thirds of Turkish Cypriots but rejected by three-quarters of those on the Greek side. Greek-controlled Cyprus will thus enter the European Union as scheduled on 1 May without its Turkish counterpart.

The daily says the "lopsided vote" indicates that the UN "didn't have its ear to the ground for what Cypriot leaders and their respective peoples would accept. Now this 30-year-old problem, a result of a misguided coup in 1974, will still be an irritant between NATO members Turkey and Greece unless better diplomats step in."

But Ankara will still benefit somewhat from the results of the vote. Its acceptance of the UN's terms show that members of the Turkish leadership "stuck their necks out to support the deal, winning points in Europe for the nation's long-frustrated bid to join the EU. The EU now has few excuses not to let Turkey be a member."

The good news from the vote is that both sides "want reunification, although the Greek side just wants better terms." The "Monitor" says, "If the Muslim and Western worlds are to draw closer, then the Cyprus problem must be solved."


An editorial today discusses events in and around Al-Fallujah, saying the U.S. administration's view seems to be "that the most important outcome at this moment is that the coalition be seen to regain control of that city of 200,000 in the Sunni Triangle." U.S. Marines are set to conduct joint patrols with Iraqi security services in an attempt to re-establish control over the insurgent stronghold. The "Journal" says, "There's no doubt Marines could retake the city by force, but the fear is that Al-Jazeera and other anti-American media would portray the campaign in the worst possible light and perhaps prompt uprisings elsewhere in Iraq."

But the paper says the Ba'ath Party "remnants, jihadists and criminals" that are using Al-Fallujah as a sanctuary "can't be bargained with, they can't be reasoned with, because for them a peaceful transition to Iraqi control after 30 June means defeat. If the estimated 2,000 or so insurgents decide to allow Marine patrols, it will be because they have concluded it is safer to melt away to kill Americans another day rather than fight to the death in Fallujah now."

The Brussels-based daily says, "Perhaps caution in Fallujah makes sense at this moment, but sooner or later the insurgents have to be defeated, and at the point of a gun, not by diplomacy." If they do allow the Iraqi troops and Marines retake Fallujah now, the insurgents can be expected to "regroup, rearm and organize the murder of both coalition soldiers and the Iraqis who are cooperating with [them]."


An editorial in New York's leading daily today says it is now "past time [to] authorize a real long-term increase in the force in Iraq. There is debate about how many more soldiers are needed -- some experts say at least 50,000 in the short term, while others say even more. What is certain is that the nation cannot continue limping along on small, politically calibrated 90-day infusions."

The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush "needs to create a long-term military strategy and accept the burden of providing the troops to carry it out. The failure to do that reflects the overarching error of the Iraqi invasion, one that has defined the entire Bush administration -- the refusal to take the political risk that comes with asking the voters for real sacrifice." The paper says from the beginning, the White House "led the public to underestimate the time it would take to turn Iraq into a stable democracy and the likely cost in money and blood."

Increasing troop levels "will cause further pain to an already strained military and it means acknowledging that units now being rotated home could be sent back to Iraq." But "The New York Times" says, "there seems to be no other choice."


A contribution by editor Tom Switzer of the Sydney-based "Australian" says, "It now appears that the U.S. effort to remake Iraq as a viable and peaceful democratic state is likely to end in failure. If indeed that happens, it will be tragic for those in Iraq who long for peace, order and liberty." But the collapse of U.S. policy in Iraq may also help destroy three "dangerous illusions which have warped U.S. foreign policy" in the post-11 September world.

Switzer says the first illusion that should be scuttled is "the belief that pre-emptive strikes are required to deal with rogue states." Traditional containment has worked in the past and will continue to work in the future, he says.

The second illusion "is the belief that democracy is an export commodity." For the “neocons” (American neoconservatives who supported the Iraq war) in Washington and their supporters, history is viewed as being "on democracy's side," and the time seems "ripe to bring about the political transformation of the whole region." But Switzer says the real question is "whether the conditions and circumstances in postwar Iraq are conducive to such vast social and political changes."

The third illusion that is being dispelled is "that the scope of American power is virtually limitless and that the United States can impose its will and leadership across the globe." But such "a heavy-handed policy to remake the world in America's image was bound to generate widespread hostility, resentment and concerted political opposition," he says.

Switzer writes: "That the rapidly deteriorating situation in Iraq is in the process of shattering those illusions may be the only consolation to be drawn from this hellhole."


Writing in "The Moscow Times," Ekho Moskvy political talk show host Yevgenia Albats says foreign policy should be driven by an ethical or moral component rather than being purely pragmatic.

Albats says that after the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States, U.S. President George W. Bush made a pragmatic choice regarding U.S. relations with Russia. She says in order to secure the Kremlin as an ally in the war on terrorism, the U.S. president chose "to turn a blind eye to the subversion of democratic politics and institutions in Russia." In the years hence, the White House "effectively disregarded the murderous sweep operations by Russian troops against civilians in Chechnya; chose not to notice the influx of ex-KGB officers into government and public institutions; ignored the extirpation of independent [media]; [and] overlooked the rise of violent racism on the streets and nationalism in politics -- both a direct result of the Kremlin's authoritarian stance."

In so doing, Albats says the Bush administration has chosen "to [disregard] warnings from scholars who insist that terrorism does not originate in democratic countries, but is rather a side effect of domestic repression in countries where authoritarianism prevails."

The United States is now the "global [policeman], whether we like it or not," says Albats. "And a policeman with the means of coercion but without any sense of morals is a disaster."


Former "Daily Telegraph" editor Max Hastings says Europe should open a debate on how it will proceed in its relations with the United States. But the continent will have little latitude in its relations across the Atlantic if it continues to maintain an impotent defense posture.

Hastings says Britain, in particular, must leave behind its "delusions about [its] ability to influence Washington." U.S. President Bush and his advisers "are driven by a set of primitive visceral convictions, from which they refused to be budged by persuasion or evidence." Bush "is a true believer." And once in power, true believers "can be far more frightening and dangerous than cynics." And yet in the absence of any credible European defense posture, "America remains the indispensable ally and shield."

Hastings says, "even the French and Germans recognize that no responsible nation can simply turn its back on the U.S." But "America's critics refuse to take the obvious step further: to recognize that Europe could only afford entirely to distance itself from U.S. policy if it possessed the military means to manage its own security."

Europe's "disenchantment with Bush's foreign policy is not reflected in willingness to adopt the obvious remedy: that of creating armed forces capable of acting effectively without the U.S." And yet no European nation -- except, possibly, France -- shows any interest in allocating funds for this purpose.

Hastings says Europe will remain unable to distance itself from Washington's "follies" unless it re-invents itself as "something quite different from the eunuch it is today."


Columnist Veronique Soule says 15 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Eastern Europe has changed dramatically. The downtowns are noisy and illuminated, Western cars have replaced the Trabant, and the politicians -- having forgotten their Russian -- now speak English abroad. But behind this veneer, Soule says the reality is more subtle. Communism has left an imprint on the regional landscape as much as it has on the spirit.

With remarkable perseverance, Central and Eastern European populations supported the painful reforms launched at the beginning of the 1990s. Whereas the stores were stocked, unemployment appeared along with other social inequalities. Each country chose its own pace of reform in order to avoid a social meltdown. And a miracle occurred: collectivism is no more than a distant memory, replaced by a functioning market economy that is looking at rising growth.

But the onetime generous social safety net had to be sacrificed, says Soule. Region-wide health structures are failing, while social security systems are facing bankruptcy. Areas that relied on iron and steel production have very high unemployment rates. In Poland and the Czech Republic, thousands of dismissals are expected to complete the reorganization of various industries, another poisoned inheritance from communism.

Among those that lost out during these years of transition, there is a certain nostalgia. Pensioners, especially, seem to pine for the old days, with the aid of a selective memory that obscures the recollection of long lines for meat or milk.