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Western Press Review: Business And Politics Intertwine On Two Continents

By Ron Synovitz/Dora Slaba

Prague, 7 November 1997 (RFE/RL) -- A dispute between France and Germany about who will be seated on the six-member executive board of the future European Central Bank is the topic of commentary and analysis in today's western press. France and Germany each are supporting different candidates to head the institution.


An editorial in France's Le Monde says: "With the new starting signal in the contest of naming a president for the European Central Bank, France has enabled the whole of Europe to again make a decisive choice. The selection of the central bank chief according to the Maastricht agreement is the prerogative of government chiefs. There has to be a unanimous vote at a summit. Those responsible for preparing for the vote were prone to making adaptations. They already had chosen Dutchman Wim Duisenberg. Meanwhile, they forgot that the nomination must be a political decision. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl himself may not be unreceptive to this argument."


In Holland, Rotterdam's Algemeen Dagblad writes an editorial saying: "Whenever an important function is to be handed out in the European Union, the French government plays the first violin. France is not too shy to employ powerful political pressures. This forces the German government into a difficult position. The Germans, who were squarely behind the Duisenberg candidacy, badly need France's support to overcome big problems connected to the introduction of the Euro currency. It would be naive to think that the German government would consider the candidature of Duisenberg as more important than French support for the new currency."


From Germany, the financial daily Handelsblatt carries an editorial saying: "France is ready for conflict because a deep frustration prevails among many politicians in Paris regarding what is referred to there as the 'German Euro.' The German predominancy, which is taken seriously, applies equally to the common currency as to the stabilization pact. France's desire for European economic rule is breaking toward an informal stabilization council."


An analysis piece by Tony Holm in today's London Telegraph looks at how the row could be resolved through the selection of a third candidate to head the future bank. Holm writes: "The Governor of the Bank of Spain, Luis Angel Rojo, was being heavily tipped last night as a 'compromise candidate' to head the European Central Bank, as France and Germany remained deadlocked over the choice of an EMU supremo." Holm says: "Spanish officials are testing opinions among EU diplomats before deciding whether to advise Madrid to field Mr Rojo against Jean-Claude Trichet, the Frenchman, and Wim Duisenberg, the German-backed Dutchman." Describing the background of the feud, Holm notes that: "The latest Franco-German row over EMU blew up on Tuesday after France shocked Bonn by announcing it was to field Mr Trichet for the post. Germany had been urging all EU countries to support Mr Duisenberg, who follows an economic philosophy fully in line with that of the Bundesbank." Holm concludes that "if a compromise candidate were to be taken seriously, he or she would probably emerge from one of the large EU countries other than France or Germany."


Coverage of the dispute in today's Financial Times of London focuses on the French government's rebuff of a German proposal to keep a seat on the future bank board open for a British representative. An analysis by a team of correspondents (David Owen, John Kampfner and David Buchan; says: "France's coolness to the idea of a British seat on the board could cast a chill on today's Anglo-French summit in London." The Financial Times analysis notes that German Chancellor Helmut Kohl had said last week that "he was ready to keep a seat vacant, making it easier for the United Kingdom to make a late entry into the European single currency." The Financial Times team says: "France seems to have been taken aback by Mr Kohl's suggestion." It also notes that: "France's decision to oppose the German brokered candidate from Holland has triggered efforts by the Netherlands to shore up support for its contender for the top European Central Bank job."


The Italian daily La Republica writes an editorial on the issue today saying: "At last, belatedly, the Italian government has taken action. Paris has surprisingly added open competition to the German proposal of Dutchman Wim Duisenberg as chief of the European Central Bank by suggesting (French central bank chief) Jean-Claude Trichet as an alternative. France has thereby made plain to the Italians that European economic union does not merely consist of achieving the right decimal points and percentages to qualify. After the countries achieve the necessary parameters, the real game of Maastricht will be moved to Brussels and will become political because the real issue is the leadership of a new Europe. (Italian) Prime Minister Romano Prodi has opened the game by declaring that Italy is not sufficiently represented in international bodies. But Rome has a double handicap. For one thing, it is plagued by a government crisis and secondly, its position is made more difficult by the disorder within the Italian banking system."

Russian business and politics, as well as the 80th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, also are topics addressed in the opinion pages of today's western press.


A news analysis in today's Financial Times of London looks at plans of the Royal Dutch/Shell group to team up with Russian gas monopoly Gazprom in a bid for Rosneft, the last big Russian oil company still to be privatized. Written by reporters Robert Corzine in London and Chrystia Freeland in Moscow, the frontpage article examines reports from Russia's Interfax that the firms are likely to sign an agreement this month.

The article says: "By teaming up with Gazprom, a corporate behemoth with immense political and economic clout in Russia, Shell would acquire a powerful partner in the battle for Rosneft, which is shaping up as Russia's biggest business contest of the year." Noting that U.S. investment bank Salomon Brothers has estimated Rosneft's "identifiable value" at $1.4 billion, Corzine and Freeland say: "Any bid is expected to be higher, particularly after Wednesday's decree by President Boris Yeltsin allowing foreign companies to own 100 percent of Russian oil companies." The reporters say: "Shell is also said to be ready to support Gazprom's planned $1 billion convertible bond issue being underwritten by Goldman Sachs and ABN Amro. The U.S. government has threatened to oppose the issue because of Gazprom's investments in Iran." But, the authors conclude, "the world's biggest natural gas producer and the biggest western oil multinational would be a formidable partnership."


A commentary by Therese Raphael in today's Wall Street Journal examines the sacking of the deputy secretary of the Russian Security Council, Boris Berezovsky. Rasphael writes: "While Mr Berezovsky no doubt considers himself an international mover and shaker, he is notable not so much for the wealth he has accumulated practically overnight. Rather than what he controls, it is what he is seen to represent that has made Mr Berezovsky a source of fascination and often consternation. He has been viewed as the apotheosis of oligarchic creep that threatens to hijack Russia's transformation to a market-driven democracy. With Mr Berezovsky's sacking, President Yeltsin seems to be betting that his place in history is more secure in the hands of the reform-seeking Deputy Prime Ministers Boris Nemtsov and Anatoly Chubais than in the clutches of powerful business leaders who saw in Mr Yeltsin's re-election an opportunity to control the policy process from their unelected perches." Raphael concludes: "The absence of Mr Berezovsky in the Kremlin lineup may mean one less tycoonocrat who sees political power as the shortest route to personal enrichment. Their economic views lean toward a heavy-handed state dominated by a small clan of the smart and the rich. But whether Mr Berezovsky's firing signifies more than an ephemeral expression of the president's favor is so far unclear."


Miriam Neubert writes an opinion column in Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung today examining the 80th anniversary of the October Revolution. She writes: "Eighty years ago. when the victory of the workers, soldiers and peasants was declared, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin suddenly hit his forehead and said in German to his fellow travelers, "It makes me dizzy."

The reason was the sudden jump from illegality to power. The October Revolution had been won. But at what price? The Soviet State, under the leadership of the Bolsheviks, blazed a trail which for a good seven decades led economically and politically into a blind alley. The former Soviet states, and above all Russia, have been struggling since then to get out of this blind alley and find a link with the modern world."

Neubert says: "If the embalmed Lenin were to look out of his mausoleum near the Kremlin wall he would be dizzy once more. This time though he would not be dizzy with power, but would faint. Billboards no longer display him as the hero of the Revolution, but instead, show the Marlboro-Man. Instead of the red slogans which used to flood Moscow on this holy day, animated adverts for Gallina Blanca chicken soup blink down, the alluring glint of Heineken Beer and other trademarks of goods from Asia, Europe and America as well as some Russian trademarks. Consume instead of Communism. Individuals instead of the masses. Reform instead of revolution. The 80th year after the Bolsheviks' October coup is decidedly at the stage of a wild building of capitalism. True, the old system brought literacy and industrialization. It conquered space and, thanks to its armaments, achieved the status of a world power. Yet the price was high. A suicidal militerization, terror in its own party ranks and a repressive state administration, a distribution system with nonsensical repercussions - all this is the heritage of the structures and in the minds which the country will have to contend with for many years to come."

Another ongoing topic of western newspaper editorial coverage is the world's stock markets -- particularly, Asian bourses.


The International Herald Tribune published an editorial today urging investment analysts to stop exaggerating their portrayals of economies in Southeastern Asia. The editorial says: "Six months ago the 'tiger' economies of Southeast Asia were widely portrayed as miraculous engines of perpetual growth. Today they are portrayed as feeble. Since in many cases the portrayers are the very same investment analysts, credit raters and other economic experts, it is fair to ask whether their dismal reviews today aren't as overstated as were their raves a few months back."

The International Herald Tribune says: "The economies of Southeast Asia are in varying degrees of trouble... But none of the shortcomings is new, and none prevented them from progressing from poverty toward middle-class success with historic swiftness. Many of the fundamentals were and remain sound. The question now is how quickly these nations can correct their admittedly real shortcomings and return to a path of growth."

The International Herald Tribune concludes: "All of them, to successfully evolve into higher-tech, higher-income economies, will have to reform their political systems in ways that will discomfort entrenched elites. They will have to democratize, regulate more evenly and openly, and get serious about public corruption. But if their troubles are falsely exaggerated, the recovery could take far longer than necessary."