Prague, 19 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentators are treating a variety of subjects today. In Britain, France, Sweden and Spain, newspapers are assessing yesterday's proposals by the European Union's Executive Commission to reduce farm and regional subsidies in preparation for the EU's coming enlargement to Central and Eastern Europe. In the U.S., some commentators write about NATO's coming expansion to the East, the subject of an important debate this week in the U.S. Senate. And both West European and U.S. papers are concerned with the results of recent elections in India.
In Britain, both the Financial Times and the Times of London carry editorials dealing with the EU Commission's reform proposals, which both find inadequate.
FINANCIAL TIMES: Illogicality of EU budget undermines credibility of institution
In an editorial titled "Europe's Illogical Budget," the Financial Times writes: "Today's (EU) spending is dominated by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the regional funds. Both are disastrously flawed, as has long been recognized....Reform has been tortuously difficult because of the need to gain unanimity. The European Commission's budget proposals...are a move in the right direction. But they should have gone further." The editorial continues: "The CAP is dying a slow and painful death. The EU must acknowledge that it needs to be definitively dispatched (that is, ended)...Reform of the other big element of the (EU) budget -- regional funds -- is also far too slow." The paper concludes: "The illogicality of the (EU) budget undermines the credibility of the institution...as a whole. Negotiating the EU budget is a diplomatic nightmare. With 15 member states to keep happy, there are limits on what can be done. But, even if it takes some years to achieve, a clear strategy for reform is vital."
LONDON TIMES: Regional aid has reached absurd dimensions
The London Times, in an editorial titled "The Handout Culture, is even more critical of the EU. It first assesses the Union's planned eastward expansion: "Although the main purpose of enlargement is political, there are huge potential economic gains for Europe, East and West, from the synergies created by this enlarged market. If the (eastern) newcomers are to become Europe's future dynamos of growth, however, they will need substantial help to transform their economies." The editorial goes to say: "The question which politicians can no longer avoid is how to enlarge the EU without either bankrupting its budget or massively increasing the net amounts that taxpayers of richer states pay to Brussels. The answer is that the existing members will have to lessen their dependence on subsidies from Brussels. This will require drastic rethinking of two policies, regional aid and the...CAP, which between them account for more than 80 percent of all EU spending." The editorial then notes that "howls of unfair' have greeted" yesterday's reform proposals, and says: "This was all too predictable....Regional aid...has now reached such absurd dimensions that more than half the EU population receives these subsidies. (And it is) lunacy (under the CAP today to pay) farmers guaranteed prices to produce food regardless of their ability to sell it..." SYDVENSKA DAGBLADET: Reform proposals a step in the right direction
The Swedish daily Sydvenska Dagbladet is more moderate in its appraisal of the Commission's reform proposals. The paper writes in an editorial: "The EU Commission's proposal for a new subsidy policy is founded on the hope that a decision on a new agrarian and regional policy can be reached before the next European Parliament elections in June 1999. Otherwise, there is a risk that the reforms will become a campaign issue that will hurt the EU's Eastern expansion." The editorial also says: "A comprehensive change in the EU's subsidy policy is impossible. The current proposals are a step in the right direction, but will not be enough for long. Hopefully, it is only a beginning."
LHUMANITE: Commission suggests reducing subsidies
The French Communist Party daily l'Humanite titles its news analysis of the Commission's reform proposals, "Twenty (EU) Commissioners Americanize the Common Agricultural Policy." But the analysis itself is far less partisan, with the paper noting that the Commission actually presented three reform projects yesterday: "First, reforming the CAP in order to facilitate the Eastward enlargement of the Union at the least budgetary cost; (second,) redefining aid to poorer regions, and (third) spelling out the EU's foreseeable budget (from 2000) until 2006...The three projects cannot go into effect without the unanimous agreement of the EU's 15 members." L'Humanite's analysis also says: "If the proposed (regional funding) reform is adopted by the 15's governments, the (funds) would be distributed differently to geographic regions (including new Eastern members) which have the greatest need, while still maintaining the same (ceiling of budget contributions by present members)....The Commission is suggesting that these funds be concentrated on (up to) 40 percent of the EU's population, in contrast to the present 51 percent."
EL PAIS: EU proposal unacceptable for Spain
Spain's El Pais daily is concerned by another reform proposal made by the Commission, this one to reduce subsidies to olive-oil producers in five Mediterranean nations (Spain, Portugal, France, Greece and Italy). It finds the proposal "not an acceptable starting point for Spain." El Pais' editorial says: "The anger of (Spanish) olive farmers is understandable....The European Commission proposal would result in legalizing fraud in Italian (olive) production at the expense of Spain. The (EU would) set the ceiling on production at 625,000 tons annually, while, except in drought years, our country can produce a third more....(Our) government (should rethink) its policies...before the long and difficult negotiations begin in (the EU's) Council of Ministers. (There is a) risk of seeing the importance of (the EU's scheduled early May summit designating candidates for joining the European Monetary Union) dimmed by this poorly chosen battle."
American press on the debate over NATO enlargement:
WASHINGTON POST: Clinton administration hasnt thought through NATO consequences
Two Washington Post columnists have commented critically on the current U.S. Senate debate on NATO's expansion to Central Europe. Foreign-affairs specialist Jim Hoagland writes: "The U.S. Senate is moving in haste toward a climactic vote on NATO expansion, a foreign-policy initiative that defines the Clinton Administration's approach to the world as one of strategic promiscuity and impulse. The Senate should not join in that approach." Hoagland continued: "NATO expansion is the Clintonites' most vaunted contribution to diplomacy, and they characteristically assert they can have it all, when they want, without paying any price. Do it, the President told the Senate leadership on Monday in a letter asking for an immediate vote, and others will later clean up the messy strategic details such as the mission an expanded NATO will have and who else will join." He concluded in the same mode: "The Clinton Administration has not taken seriously its responsibility to think through the consequences of its NATO initiative, and to explain them to the American people. The Senate needs an extended debate, not a hasty vote."
Foreign policy is bottom of voters concerns
Yesterday, domestic-affairs specialist David Broder wrote in the Washington Post: "The Senate just spent two weeks arguing over how to slice up the pork (that is, distribute funds) in the $214 billion highway and mass transit bill. It will, if plans hold, spend only a few days on moving the NATO shield hundreds of miles eastward to include Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic." Broder went on: "The reason is simple. As Senator Connie Mack of Florida, the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, told me while trying to herd reluctant senators into a closed-door discussion of the NATO issue one afternoon last week, 'No one is interested in this at home,' so few of his colleagues think it worth much of their time. Broder also said: "It is a clich to observe that since the Cold War ended, foreign policy has dropped to the bottom of voters' concerns....Serious consideration of treaties and military alliances once was considered what the Senate was for. No longer. President Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger, has pressed (Senate) Majority Leader Trent Lott to get the NATO deal done before Clinton leaves Sunday on a trip to Africa."
NEW YORK TIMES: Senate treats NATO expansion as afterthought
In a news analysis for the New York Times today, Katherine Seelye writes: "On the floor of the U.S. Senate (yesterday), the official topic was whether to approve the treaty admitting Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into NATO. But much of the discussion revealed a Senate, historically the scene of great oratorical struggles over the nation's foreign policy, barely engaged in an issue that would redraw the world's political boundaries." Her analysis went on: "This is a chamber that in the past has turned nearly funereal with respect for its international obligations --whether war against Iraq, withdrawal from Vietnam, or establishing a United Nations. But Wednesday, perhaps as a reflection of the buoyancy of peace and prosperity, the Senate took up NATO expansion as an afterthought, debating it for a second day in a row only after chaotic scheduling had short-circuited a debate on education." She summed up: "NATO was reduced to just one more venue for partisan haggling, which in the short run concerns procedural advantage and in the long run concerns whether Republicans are presiding over a 'do-nothing' Congress."
NEW YORK TIMES: India embarks on perilous course
In its editorial today, the New York Times assesses the results of India's recent elections. The paper writes: "India embarks on a perilous course with the planned installation of its first potentially durable Hindu nationalist government. Two years ago the Hindu nationalists lasted only 13 days in power, unable to find any other party to support them. This time, party leaders claim enough coalition votes to survive....Their government will be judged on whether it eases the country's poverty and preserves national unity." The editorial continued: "There is reason to hope that the Hindu nationalist party, called Bharatiya Janata (BJP, an acronym for Indian People's Party), will respect the country's secular traditions. (It) has dropped the party's pledge to impose a uniform civil code repugnant to the Moslem minority."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: BJP seeks to impose conformity on heterogeneous country
Writing yesterday in Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Stefan Klein took a far less sanguine view of India's election results. In a commentary titled "BJP stands for conformity in a heterogeneous country," he asked: "Hindu fascism?," answering: "It may be, for the party assigned to form India's next government is seeking to impose conformity on a spectacularly heterogeneous country. The Bharatiya Janata Party wants to plough under the country's multi-cultural character and raise its own...banner of Hindu nationalism. For the country's 120 million Moslems, realization of the BJP's goals could only mean second-class citizenship." Klein also said: "On top of that is a streak of aggressive militarism: the BJP...wants to step up rocket production and to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons."