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Western Press Review: The Problems Of Expanding Europe

Prague, 18 August 1997 (RFE/RL) - With the enlargement of NATO now set to begin in some two years and the expansion of the European Union eastward also due to get underway in the new millennium, much Western press commentary in recent days has focused on the Old Continent's new efforts at internal integration. Many analysts concentrate on the changing nature of European nations' outlooks as entry into NATO and an expanded EU have become a part of Europe's planned future institutional architecture.

FINANCIAL TIMES: Neutral countries may reconsider joining NATO

An analysis by Bertrand Benoit late last week in the British newspaper discusses the problems of the EU's three newest members -- Austria, Finland and Sweden, all of which joined the now-15 nation group two-and-half-years ago. According to Benoit, all three states -- "once self-proclaimed bastions of neutrality," he says -- are now facing a new problem: whether now to seek actively the membership in NATO they so determinedly rejected for decades. Benoit writes: "There is a shared sense (among the three nations) that the foreign policy imperatives which underpinned the choice of neutrality in a continent split into ideological camps have become weaker." He notes that "in Stockholm last week (former prime minister) Carl Bildt, leader of the opposition Moderate party, suggested the time may be ripe for Sweden to consider NATO membership." Benoit quotes Heather Grabbe, an EU enlargement specialist at Britain's Royal Institute for International Affairs, as saying: "Neutral countries' foreign policy agendas do not clash with NATO enlargement any longer. It is purely a domestic issue."

GUARDIAN: Germany shoulders more of the EU's budget than the rest of the EU combined

But purely domestic issues are important in larger EU member states like Germany, where Chancellor Helmet Kohl has now thrown his considerable political weight behind the campaign to reduce what many consider his country's over-sized net contributions to the EU's budget. Writing from Hamburg today in the British daily, Ian Traynor says that in a television interview last night Kohl aligned himself for the first time with a growing "chorus of cross-party calls demanding Brussels budget reform, and insisting Germany is paying way beyond its means in shouldering the bulk of the EU's finances." Traynor notes that "Germany is by far (the EU's) biggest paymaster. It puts in...60 to 80 percent of the total, or much more than the rest of the EU combined." He says that "Kohl's endorsement of (EU budget) reform calls reflects the fact that his government is languishing miserably in opinion polls a year before the next general election, while locked in a public finance crisis and struggling to make the grade for the single European currency. Demanding money back from Brussels is seen as an easy, populist way of appeasing euro-skepticism in Germany."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Kohl must reassure Germans that the euro will not be a soft currency

According to John Schmid's analysis today, Kohl also went out of his way last night to reaffirm he would " 'not sacrifice' the stability of the proposed new euro currency to attain monetary union." Schimd quotes the Chancellor as saying, "We do not want a soft euro," and says that the Chancellor's "carefully phrased remarks reflect mounting pressure on him to reassure Germans that their new currency will not be soft while sidestepping the politically explosive debate over a delay of the (euro) project." In the past, Schmid recalls, "Kohl has said postponement would be fatal to the dream of a currency union." But he writes that "the Chancellor's comments yesterday appeared aimed at Edmund Stoiber, the Bavarian state minister, who repeatedly has insisted on a two-year delay of the currency's planned launch on January 1, 1999 -- if Germany and other nations overshoot the Maastricht Treaty's budget deficit benchmark of three percent of gross national product."

WASHINGTON TIMES: The Berlin Wall came down in large part due to President Reagan's commitment to freedom

The U.S. conservative daily yesterday marked this week's anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall by East Germany. In an editorial, the paper says that "the wall stood for 28 years as a symbol of ugly brutality and disregard for human life and dignity that mark(ed) the world's Communist dictatorships." The wall was built in the first place, says the paper, "because the citizens of Communist East Germany were fleeing in the thousands, using democratic West Berlin as a gateway to freedom....The massive flight of the Germans had to be stopped." The wall came down in 1989, the paper continues, "when thanks in large part to Ronald Reagan's unwavering commitment to freedom, Eastern European Communism was on its last legs and the communists obeyed Mr. Reagan's injunction to Mikhail Gorbachev: 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall.'" The paper concludes: "Germany was reunified the following year, and the rest, as they say, is history."

ECONOMIST: "Who will be Germany's Tony Blair?"

The current issue of the British weekly (dated August 16-22) asks in a lead article, "Who will be Germany's Tony Blair?" The magazine writes: "Germany's leading opposition party, the Social Democratic party, is on a roll. It has just blocked what the government had billed as an historic tax reform in (Germany's) upper house of parliament, serving notice that the ruling coalition is too unpopular and too close to the end of its term to undertake anything historic." The weekly continues: "In a sure sign that the SPD is girding for war, its two feuding top leaders -- Oskar Lafontaine and Gerhard Schroeder -- have ostentatiously declared peace...The only point on which there was so far no accord, it seems, was which one of the two should be installed in (Kohl's) place."

The magazine says that "if public-opinion polls were all that counted, the bright and breezy Mr. Schroeder, premier of Lower Saxony, would be unstoppable." But it notes that, unlike Britain's Blair, "Mr. Schroeder does not control his own party. That job is done -- and done well -- by Mr. Lafontaine, who has no intention to yielding to him without a fight." That means, says the weekly, that "even if Mr. Schroeder wins the candidacy, and goes on to become chancellor, his power base will be shaky. He will head the government, but Mr. Lafontaine will remain in charge of the party, and might just take on leadership of the parliamentary party too....Helmut Kohl," the magazine concludes, "has combined both roles, one big reason why he has stayed in power so long. Not a bad model for the Social Democrats, but almost certainly one that only Oskar Lafontaine could emulate."