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Western Press Review: Hopes For EU, NATO Membership Hinge On Reform

Prague, 10 June 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Economic and political developments in Central and Eastern Europe are the subject of commentary in today's western press.

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Slovakia's Meciar runs danger of losing office

An editorial in today's Wall Street Journal Europe predicts that Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar is likely to be voted out of office in the next elections unless he immediately takes steps to reform the economy. The editorial also predicts that NATO and European Union leaders will reject Slovakia's bids for early membership in their organizations. Instead, the newspapers says, western leaders will deliver a stern warning to Slovakia: "shape up, or stay on the sidelines for a long time to come."

The newspaper says: "It has been one of the more intriguing mysteries in the region that Mr Meciar, not exactly one of Central Europe's most enlightened democrats or reformers, has managed to remain popular for so long." Even more perplexing is the fact that "the Slovak economy has seemingly thrived despite a relatively superficial reform process."

The Wall Street Journal warns that Slovakia's growth rate of nearly seven percent last year "is not sustainable without major economic restructuring, something this government has shown little stomach for." The editorial also expresses doubts that the Central Bank in Bratislava will be able to sustain the tight money policy that has kept inflation down to an annual six percent. "More troublesome," the newspaper says, "many of Slovakia's enterprises still depend on government subsidies."

The editorial concludes: "While Mr Meciar remains popular in many parts of the country, the basis of that support -- populist charm, nationalist vim and economic growth -- appear to be wearing thin.... A quick look at his neighbors ought to be enough to convince Slovakia's prime minister that if he doesn't become an agent for change, he will certainly be a casualty of it."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE: Nations must join EU on case-by-case basis

German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel writes an opinion piece in today's Frankfurter Allgemeine outlining Bonn's expectations for southeastern European countries that hope to join the European Union. Kinkel says: "Every state of the region must know that our policy toward it is oriented according to their individual steps toward reform." He says that since the disintegration of the Soviet bloc, and especially since the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, "it is less possible than ever" to reduce southeastern European countries to "a common denominator."

Kinkel says Germany's southeastern policy is "to differentiate, but not discriminate." He says the policy has influenced the EU's strategy toward Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria, and also the EU's regional concept for Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Macedonia and Albania.

Kinkel writes: "The aims of our policy for these states is clear: to create stability through democratization, market economy reforms and the development of a civic society with particular considerations towards the problems of ethnic groups and minorities." Kinkel writes that these goals "define the prerequisites with which southeastern states must comply in order to collaborate more closely with the EU. He concludes that "Whoever wants to join Europe must adhere to the criteria of these values and standards."

Controversy In The Pentagon

Commentary in several U.S. newspapers today focuses on an issue of sex, and particularly adultery, within the armed forces of the United States. While several recent sex scandals in the U.S. military have involved lower ranking officers or enlisted personnel, the latest case has resulted in General Joseph Ralston withdrawing his candidacy for the highest U. S. military position, that of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

ASSOCIATED PRESS: The Pentagon's double standards

Susanna Schafer, a military writer for The Associated Press, writes in an analysis today that politicians are complaining in Washington about "double standards" on the part of the Pentagon. In particular, legislators and others are drawing comparisons between Ralston's case and that of the recently discharged female B-52 Air Force pilot Kelly Flinn.

Schafer says U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen is being criticized for wanting to promote Ralston, who admits that he committed adultery more than 13 years ago. Lower-ranking officers like Flinn have faced court martial and other punishments for similar behavior.

Schafer also quotes an opinion piece written for Newsweek magazine by Flinn. In it, the former Air Force pilot complains that Ralston received "plenty of support and guidance," particularly from Defense Secretary Cohen. Flinn says: "No one in my chain of command took the time to pull me aside and find out what was going on."

Schafer also presents the views of Ralston's supporters, who say that his case differs markedly from Flinn's. In Schafer's words, Flinn "faced court-martial and ultimately was discharged from the Air Force not only because of her affair but also because she disobeyed an order to end it and lied about it."

WASHINGTON POST: Public opinion has been shaped by scandal

In an analysis piece for today's Washington Post, Dana Priest writes that the climate of U.S. public opinion after Flinn's dismissal has forced Ralston to withdraw his candidacy for the top military post. Priest says Ralston would not be able to win Senate confirmation because, in his words, public opinion has been "shaped by the abortive court-martial" of Flinn.

Priest writes: "The challenge facing the military now is to develop a policy that would accept some past indiscretions and set rules for the future that judge everyone consistently regardless of rank or gender. Defense Secretary Cohen already has set up a commission to give local commanders clearer, practical guidelines on how to apply the military's now highly subjective rules against adultery. But Cohen has yet to spell out a way to deal gracefully with cases like Ralston's that involve past infidelities. So far, the Pentagon has insisted it will not issue any kind of blanket amnesty, but without one, the issue is bound to crop up again."

Priest concludes by noting that the U.S. military does not keep statistics that can prove or disprove whether its standards are applied fairly in different cases. He notes that Cohen has asked the new commission to gather such data and make that determination.