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Western Press Review: Euro Launch Sparks Congratulations, Controversy

By Don Hill, Esther Pan, Alexandre d'Aragon and Dora Slaba

Prague, 26 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Optimists and pessimists diverge today on the meaning of the European Commission's latest steps toward monetary union, published yesterday. Optimistic commentators in the Western press hail at least half the news as positive; those of another mind decry at least half as negative.

LIBERATION: Common currency will destroy societies

Columnist Laurent Joffrin, writing in Liberation from Paris, walks on the dark side. He writes: "From this day forward, the nature of the European debate changes. For all those who are interested in the future, it is past time to ask if one is for or against the euro, but instead to answer the question: which euro does one want?" He says, This project is making Europe run the maximum risk. (That is) before producing its modernizing effects, the common currency will continue to destroy societies by a rapid industrial restructuring and will almost surely provoke political revolt."

GUARDIAN: Euro is make or break question

In a commentary in The Guardian from London, Hugo Young, looks past the political cloud to the silver of economic liberalization. He writes: "The struggle in Europe now is to make the impossible happen. In this age of blurred arguments, the single currency is a make or break question. It has a beautiful starkness." Young says: "There will be times when some voices curse the day when EMU was invented, so great are the political problems associated with it. But they won't be the main voices. It's worth remembering that the EU itself was the product of a crazy dream. Sinking sovereignties while retaining nations was a project never before attempted. Fraught with rebarbative problems, it was regularly predicted to collapse. The next Union has much to be said against it, but it deepens the originating concept of the European Community: a concept which, far from dying, as British sceptics keep predicting, draws more and more European nations to sign up for the struggle to make it real."

NEW YORK TIMES: Reports are stamps of approval

Reports from the European Commission and from the European Monetary Institute, a New York Times news analysis says, contain just about what was expected. But, writes Edmund L. Andrews, the message still is sobering. He says: "The long-awaited reports, issued separately in Brussels, Belgium, and Frankfurt, confirmed what most experts have been predicting for months. Still, they represented crucial stamps of approval on each country's attempts to get its fiscal house in order. But the European Monetary Institute's report provides a sobering assessment of the challenges that lie beyond the official starting date on January 1. It said that Italy and Belgium would have to run budget surpluses for the foreseeable future to reduce their mountain of accumulated debt."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: EMI did what was expected

Commentator Helmut Maier-Mannhart presents a similar view in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. He writes: "The European Monetary Institute has done exactly what was expected of it. Not only did it examine the candidates on the basis of deficit criteria and decide which countries had managed to remain below the three per cent borderline for new debt on public expenditure debt. It has also given its view on the prospects of individual states bringing their budget deficits under control and keeping them there. So it is hardly surprising that Italy and Belgium in particular received bad marks."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Kohl risks downfall with support for euro

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung foresees problems for German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. The newspaper editorializes: "The story of the euro presents some paradoxes, not the least raising the possibility of Kohl's political downfall thanks to his fervent support." It says: "(Still), few truly believe that a politician in Germany could hold his own by uncoupling from the European train."

STUTTGARTER ZEITUNG: Preserving stability wont be easy

An editorial in the Stuttgarter Zeitung says the political fallout will be broader than just Germany's. It says: "Whether the euro becomes stable or not disregards the question of the bookkeeping of 1997, but concerns the political will in the next millennium. The price and the currency stability have to be processed every year, and mostly they require uncomfortable saving measures in the public housekeeping. This work of preserving stability will not be easier in the circle of the eleven. Above all the weaker, the southern, the smaller countries will have a hard time in the Euro Club. They lack a currency political valve: they will no longer be able from time to time to devalue their own money against the stabile currencies to defend themselves (and) they will have to live with the rules of the strong ones who will set the tone of the euro."

EL MUNDO: Spain has achieved the unattainable

Spain's El Mundo, Madrid, editorializes proudly: "Forty-one years ago, our country contemplated the birth of a new Europe, from the marches of autocracy and isolation. Yesterday, we were among the founding members of its monetary union. In only two years, our country has achieved what seemed to be unattainable. This result can be attributed to the economic policy of the government, which took advantage of favorable international economic conditions and imposed rigor and austerity."

EL PAIS: Euro will reduce differences between rich and poor

El Pais, Madrid, shares the sense of triumph. Its editorial says: "This is good, especially for Spain (that) the most ambitious project of European construction since the creation of the European Economic Community in 1957 could not be limited to a chosen few. The euro concerns everyone and all are interested in its success: that of the currency and the economic policies that led to its birth, which should create growth and employment, besides reducing social and regional differences. In the Europe of the euro, the differences between rich and poor countries should be reduced."

LONDON TIMES: Warnings cast cloud over euro euphoria

An analysis by Charles Bremner in The Times, London, is less celebratory. Bremner writes: "European leaders basked in mutual congratulation yesterday after the European Commission proclaimed 11 states qualified to embark on monetary union -- a project that it promised would open a new age of prosperity. However, qualms over the fitness of Italy from the European Union's monetary guardians cast a slight cloud over an announcement which, although widely expected, prompted special celebration in the South. In a less rosy report than the commission's, the European Monetary Institute, Europe's future central bank, questioned the soaring national debts of Italy and Belgium and wondered about their ability to keep their budgetary houses in order. It also called for efforts by France and Germany to keep up the debt-cutting reforms launched at Maastricht in 1991."