Prague, 16 June 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Western newspaper commentary focuses on the two-day European Union summit scheduled to open in Amsterdam today. The main goal of the summit is to keep Maastricht treaty plans on track for the launch of a single European currency by January 1999. The summit also is expected to mark the beginning of work on expanding the European Union to include central and eastern European countries.
WALL STREET JOURNAL: Popular enthusiasm for the EU has dwindled
In a analysis piece for today's Wall Street Journal Europe, Brian Coleman and Thomas Kamm write: "Rather than bringing the Europeans closer together, the Maastricht treaty has fueled unpopular taxes and budget cuts, taken blame for exacerbating the EU's 11 percent unemployment rate, and threatened to disrupt enlargement. It has even divided the two countries that have pushed hardest for integration -- Germany and France." The writers say: "No matter what the outcome of this summit, one thing is clear. Popular enthusiasm for the EU has dwindled to the lowest point in a decade. And the drive for integration has, in a way, become a victim of its own success -- For the more member states struggle to meet the tough Maastricht criteria for joining a single currency, the more their citizens revolt at the economic hardship this imposes."
Coleman and Kamm conclude that: "The summit can be expected to end with EU leaders papering over their differences on a single currency and declaring some progress on efforts to overhaul the EU's rusty decision-making machinery. But the reality is far more sobering. . . Instead of bringing the EU together in "an ever-closer union," the single-currency project has become the source of serious friction."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The euro is pulling Europe apart
An analysis piece in today's International Herald Tribune by Edmund Andrews says European leaders at the summit will "almost certainly portray themselves as solidly united in the last mile of a historic project -- the introduction of the euro, the celebrated single European currency envisioned as a big step toward a fully united Europe."
But Andrews says: "The reality will be different. Having been pushed further than most people ever thought possible, the euro is pulling Europe apart at the seams." Andrews says the biggest barriers to monetary union are "just around the corner." He writes: "Between now and July 10, German leaders must either slash thousands of millions in government spending or acknowledge that they cannot reduce their budget deficit to the strict limits required to create the euro. Most experts are convinced that (German Chancellor Helmut) Kohl has already lost the budget battle... That leaves Mr Kohl with a wrenching choice -- delay the euro, which would probably kill it and deprive him of a coveted spot in history, or soften the tough standards that were supposed to give Germans enough confidence to trade in their rock-solid Deutsche marks for the untested euros." Andrews concludes: "Most financial and political experts are still betting that the new single currency will have its debut as planned on January 1, 1999. But the anxieties are growing that the whole project could unravel or that the euro will be a much weaker currency than advertised."
FINANCIAL TIMES OF LONDON: An exercise in crisis management
Columnist Lionel Barber, in today's Financial Times of London, says: "Just a fortnight ago the Dutch hosts hoped they could keep economic and monetary union off the agenda" at Amsterdam. "Their game-plan was to force EU leaders to conclude a revised Maastricht treaty, which would reform institutions and decision-making to prepare the Union for enlargment to central and eastern Europe."
"But a rush of unforeseen events, culminating in the left's upset victory in the French parliamentary elections, has turned European politics upside down. Rather than being a showcase for a new 'Treaty of Amsterdam,' the summit could turn into an exercise in crisis management, primarily between France and Germany, over the terms and conditions of Emu."
Barber concludes: "These tensions reflect how Emu has become the defining issue in European politics . . . French calls for a political counterweight to the future central bank -- a so-called Stability Council drawn from members of the euro zone -- were a further symptom of unhappiness with the German blueprint for monetary union. . . The fracas over the stability pact suggests that internal conflicts generated by Emu are growing, and could spill into other areas."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Apprehensive confrontation
An unsigned editorial in today's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says: "The discussion about the introduction of the euro is drifting into apprehensive confrontation. On the one side there are the apparently heartless fanatics for stabalization; on the other, the politicians bound to those promoting employment." The newspaper asks: "Must level-headed views really disappear? Should one really forget that the most important initial condition for growth and employment is a stable currency and low inflation?" The editorial concludes that those who would suffer most from a weak euro would be "the groups with the lowest incomes and the unemployed who are being deceived by promises of an employment miracle. . . Taking into account the most modest successes, it should be clear to everyone that a cornucopia from Brussels would not be more than a waste of money."
SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Politicians too cowardly to tell the truth
An opinion piece in today's Suddeutsche Zeitung by Andreas Oldag also argues that government subsidies must be reduced to promote more competition in Europe. Oldag says: "The encrusted structures of the employment market in Europe must be disrupted" in order to strengthen that market. He concludes: "There is still much to be done to create more jobs in Europe. Unfortunately, the politicians are too cowardly to tell people the truth. There is no patent medicine on how to solve the question of unemployment overnight."
In today's Suddeutsche Zeitung, Josef Joffe writes an opinion piece that says most Europeans are bored with the politics of a common European currency. He writes: "The euro is currently the crisis that forms the greatest shadow over Europe. It is not bound up with the classic quarrel over sovereignty between London and the rest of the EU, but the fight is taking place in the ring between the titans France and Germany. Each is now trying to pin the other down on the mat which the sober sceptics always viewed as a breaking point. . . A euro which would burst in the aftermath could poison the great achievements which have already been accomplished."
LONDON GUARDIAN: A summit deal is more likely than a split
Today's London Guardian includes an unsigned editorial that says: "It is still far more likely that there will be a deal than a split" at Amsterdam on the issue of the euro. The Guardian says: "Most EU nations (and perhaps even the British in private) prefer to see the single currency succeed than fail. But the moment of truth is now nearing, and the fact that Amsterdam will be preoccupied with ways of making that project more acceptable to an increasingly sceptical European electorate must compel Europe's leaders to rethink their course and their priorities sooner rather than later. . . The new priority must be to deliver popular and practical benefits to Europe's people."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: What if there were no euro?
An opinion piece by Joseph Fitchett in today's International Herald Tribune asks: "What if there were no euro? Suppose European governments abandon their drive to create a single currency: Would anything change in people's lives? How different would a euro-less world be?" Fitchett says he asked these questions to a score of economists and political analysts in and out of government in Bonn, London, Paris and Washington. He says: "The experts responded with widely conflicting economic scenarios ranging from rosy unconcern to forecasts of ruinous commercial wars that would wreck the European common market and revive trade barriers."
Fitchett continues that "the political consequences were seen as profoundly destabilizing by almost all of the experts and officials. Collapse of the planned monetary union would skew or even reverse the momentum toward closer European unity, they said, exposing the Continent to the tensions arising from national ambitions and fears and perhaps tempting the United States or even Russia to start playing off some European countries against others."