Prague, 3 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - Commentary in the West European press today -- most of it severely critical -- focuses largely on yesterday's signing in Amsterdam of a new European Union treaty. Analysts discuss the document's implications for the EU's promised expansion to Central and Eastern Europe.
Other Western press comment continues to discuss the French company Total's recent $2 billion agreement with Iran to develop an offshore natural-gas field.
LIBERATION: The summit ended up as a fiasco
Foreign Editor Jacques Amalric calls yesterday's signature ceremony in Amsterdam a "morose" occasion for the assembled EU foreign ministers. "That's understandable," he writes: "The Amsterdam summit, which gave birth to this puny specimen, was supposed to signal a European revival by giving the Union more efficient institutions and decision-making processes capable of functioning after enlargement. Because of many mistakes -- including that of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, paralyzed by his domestic problems, and that of the new French couple President Jacques Chirac-Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, who misjudged the stakes involved -- the summit ended up as a fiasco."
LIBERATION: Political union will be delayed indefinitely
Amalric continues: "Unfortunately, everything indicates that the 1999 launching of the new EU single currency euro will constitute a huge undertaking that will monopolize the attention and energies of European leaders for several years. That means that institutional reform and eventual political union will be delayed indefinitely. It also means that the EU's enlargement to the East will take place in the worst possible confusion."
DAILY TELEGRAPH: The practical prospects for enlargement are virtually nil
The editorial finds the Amsterdam Treaty to be an "anti-climax." It says: "The treaty's principal purpose was to prepare the EU to receive the new democracies of Eastern Europe, and in that it clearly failed. All attempts to streamline the Brussels bureaucracy and decision-making processes were shelved, while reform of the budget and the common agricultural policy were not even on the agenda. Until these matters are resolved, the practical prospects of enlargement going ahead must be virtually nil." But the paper does find that the treaty advances what it calls the EU's "federalist agenda" by, among other things, abolishing all national frontiers and extending the powers of the European Parliament. The editorial comments: "The struggle to achieve a single currency may have exhausted the rest of the EU. But it would be a mistake to assume that dedication to the ideal of a federal future is on the wane within the institutions of the Union itself."
GUARDIAN: Nobody is at all sure what this new Europe is becoming...
Martin Walker explores the reasons for the weaknesses in the Amsterdam Treaty. Walker says that the chief reason "was the really important change to emerge from Amsterdam: Germany suddenly started acting like Britain used to. Because of domestic political pressures, Chancellor Helmut Kohl personally vetoed most of the proposals for institutional reform." He writes: "Amsterdam thus saw the moment when Germany ceased to be the conciliatory and federalizing bankroller of the European project, and became strikingly more pragmatic and querulous...Not by coincidence, this was also the moment when Germany's ever-open wallet began to close." Walker concludes: "Amsterdam signified a historic shift in the political character of Europe...Beyond the utter commitment to monetary union, nobody is at all sure what this new Europe is becoming..."
SALZBURGER NACHRICHTEN: A battle of strength between big and small members
In an editorial entitled "The Catastrophe in the EU Only Deferred," the failure of the Amsterdam Treaty is attributable to a battle of strength between the Union's big and small members --a battle whose outcome has been put off for the indefinite future. The editorial concludes: "If the new challenges posed by the expansion of the EU do not lead to its eventual dissolution, then the Amsterdam-deferred power struggle between big and small EU members will no longer be preventable."
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: Iranian missiles are more of a threat to Europe than the U.S.
Under the title "Total Madness," the paper today takes up again the French company's deal with Iran. The paper's editorial says: "We don't think of ourselves as cultural pessimists, but it's hard not to suspect the world's gone mad when the same elites pushing to ban land mines 'rejoice' in a project that might give Iran the wherewithal to acquire nuclear missiles. That, indeed, is how French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin described his reaction to the new $2 billion deal by the French Total Oil Group (along with Russia's Gazprom and Malaysia's Petronas), which will provide Iran with a new income source."
The editorial continues: "What is truly remarkable is the seeming inability of Europe to come to terms with a threat that is more seriously directed at Europe than at the U.S. Iranian missiles will be far more capable of targeting Paris than Washington. No doubt this nonchalance results from a perception in Europe that the U.S. is responsible for all the heavy lifting having to do with Western security and that Europe can follow its own pursuits in the knowledge that NATO will always be there to protect it from harm." The paper concludes: "This attitude, particularly prevalent in France, greatly annoys U.S. policy makers, as it should. It is especially annoying when a French prime minister seems to be reveling in yet another exercise in twisting America's tail. This is, to put it bluntly, immature behavior, typical of much of Mr. Jospin's activities..."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Europeans are right to resist U.S. attempts to dictate rules
A contrary view is expressed by commentator Reginald Dale. He says that the threat of U.S. sanctions against countries investing heavily in Iran is the "modern equivalent of 19th-century gunboat diplomacy (which) is not only unacceptable to America's allies; it is (also) damaging to U.S. long-term interests." Dale also cites Prime Minister Jospin's remarks earlier this week, quoting: "Nobody accepts that the U.S. can pass a law on a global scale." Jospin "is right," the commentator continues. "That is why every major European government is backing Total...in its decision to defy U.S. sanctions..." Dale concludes that "fundamental principles are at stake (in this U.S.-Europe fight). Europeans are right to resist U.S. attempts to dictate rules unilaterally. Americans, on the other hand, are right to complain that Europeans are too often guided by commercial rather than strategic, let alone moral, considerations."
NEW YORK TIMES: Religious extremism, rogue states and free markets are the biggest threat to U.S. interests
In a commentary, Thomas Friedman focuses on the threat of Teheran obtaining long-range missiles and the importance of Russia's cooperation in preventing this. Friedman says that "what is coming to be known as the Iran missile crisis is in many ways the quintessential post-Cold War foreign policy problem." He continues: "The U.S....can't resolve this particular Iran crisis without aid from Russia (which is said to be aiding Iran's efforts to obtain missiles and nuclear arms)...Isn't that ironic," he asks, "America's hairy-chested NATO expanders just told us that because we Americans won the Cold War we didn't have to heed Russia's concerns. Think about the mixed message the Clintonites are now sending Moscow: In the Middle East, you have to behave like a strategic partner, but in Europe you have to accept that you're still the main enemy."
Friedman concludes: "In the post-Cold War world, the combustible cocktail of weapons proliferation, religious extremism, rogue states and free markets is becoming the biggest threat to U.S. interests. We can't cope with this threat by ourselves or in isolation from other policy goals. Neither can our allies."