Prague, 11 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary today focuses in part on the two-day European Union summit that began this morning in Vienna. There is also considerable comment on recent events in both Iran and Iraq.
FINANCIAL TIMES: EU poised to clash over money
Britain's Financial Times predicts "hard bargaining in Vienna" in its editorial. The paper writes: "The battle lines are drawn for another mighty clash in the EU over money: who pays what, and how it is spent....It is (a) profoundly divisive (question), for it threatens to set northerners against southerners, the payers against the big spenders....Today, the differences look too wide to bridge."
The FT argues: "The plans on the (EU) table are probably too cautious to lay the foundations for a lasting deal. That has to pay for the plans of the present 15 member states, and enlargement to 20 or more in the not-so-distant future."
The editorial continues: "One problem is how to satisfy the Germans, who are fed up with being the pay-masters of the Union....They now pay...more than four times as much as anybody else. At the other end stand the Spanish, adamant that they will not give up their 'cohesion' funds....And in the middle is (Britain), the only member state to get a rebate on its net payments..."
The paper concludes: "Cohesion funds must be phased out to provide more cash for the future member states in Eastern Europe. Madrid knows it will have to accept that in the end. And (Britain) should demonstrate its willingness to pay its share of future enlargement costs by agreeing to negotiate on the (rebate)."
IRISH TIMES: This summit will be an important testing of the waters
The Irish Times editorial on Vienna says that "the Union is heading into intense budgetary negotiations on (its Executive Commission's proposals contained in) 'Agenda 2000,' which will determine the shape and extent of agricultural and structural funds in preparation for enlargement."
The editorial goes on to note that "these negotiations will be chaired by the new German government in the New Year and come as that state is determined to reduce its net contribution to the EU budget. Ahead of the summit," it adds, "Mr. Jacques Santer, president of the European Commission, has warned that proposals by some member-states to stabilize the Union's expenditure could end prospects of reforming the Common Agricultural Policy. The question will not be resolved at Vienna, but this summit will be an important testing of the waters."
The IT also says: "Yesterday the German chancellor, (Gerhard) Schroeder, said his government could not endure the dual pressures of remaining the Union's principal pay-master, while capital leaves the country in pursuit of lower taxation levels elsewhere....It is hard to believe (the tax) question will go away, as the euro is introduced (on Jan. 1) and the debate on its economic governance gathers pace....More and more it is clear that notwithstanding such discussions, the new currency creates a zone of stability in the world economy."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Schroeder will derive little pleasure from his EU presidency if he continues to use force
Two German newspapers also treat EU problems today. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung discusses "The Burden of Contributions" in its editorial. The paper writes: "Now Germany's partners in the EU know where they stand in the post-(Helmut) Kohl era. When the Schroeder government takes over the chairmanship of the EU," it continues, "precedence will not be given to the Union's stability or to speeding up Eastward expansion and (necessary) institutional reforms"
Rather, says the FAZ, "high on the list of (Bonn's) priorities is a reduction in Germany's net contribution to the Brussels budget. The (Kohl) Government had already underlined the imbalance in EU finances...and demanded a new approach. But the way Schroeder presented (the issue yesterday) in his (speech to the Bundestag), it must have struck other EU members as a battle-cry and seemed like an overt threat to the (Eastern) candidates for membership."
The editorial also says: "Nobody can seriously find fault with Germany for asserting its interests....Naturally, other partners do the same....But the Federal Republic is not doing itself a favor when it states tersely that the time of the check book is over. This is no way to command respect....Schroeder will derive little pleasure from his EU presidency if he continues to use force as a way to attain accord or compromise in the EU."
SUEDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: First signs of the English disease have begun to appear in the Chancellor's speeches
In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Heribert Prantl warns Schroeder to watch out for what the writer calls 'the English disease." In a commentary, he explains: "The English disease seemed to have died out, but now the first signs of the illness have begun to appear in the Chancellor's speeches. Schroeder emphasizes national interests to a degree that reminds one of (former British PM) Margaret Thatcher."
The commentary continues: "Schroeder is starting to copy her. On Tuesday in Saarbrucken and yesterday in the Bonn parliament, he made speeches on the EU that were centered on the so-called net-contributor debate. By doing so he is arousing foreign-policy fears and domestic-policy expectations that it will be hard to keep under control."
Prantl concludes: "The path to redistribution of the financial burden is long, and demands skill and patience. If Schroeder is rousing hopes in the German population that the next EU summit (in Germany) could be a repeat of the one at Fontainebleau in 1984, he is making a fatal mistake. On that occasion, Maggie Thatcher (after five years of haggling) managed to secure a rebate. Schroeder knows that cannot happen again, but his rhetoric is feeding that kind of expectation."
LE MONDE: The Union's enlargement is seen in a very special way
The French daily Le Monde carries a commentary by Natalie Nougayrede on "the Union's Enlargement as Seen from the East." She writes: "Several Central and East European nations, notably Slovakia and Lithuania, have recently re-launched their efforts to become part of the (fast-track group of five area) countries already actively involved in (enlargement negotiations)."
She says further: "In the East, the gap between the happy few that have already begun substantive membership talks and the others (outside) has sometimes evoked passionate responses quite different from the cold, technocratic approach shown in West European capitals. That's because," she adds. "the Union's enlargement is seen in a very special way on what used to be other side of the Iron Curtain."
The commentary also says: "When it comes to the reform of EU institutions, often cited by members as a precondition for expansion, the response in the East is the following: Enlargement aside, is that reform really necessary now? Doesn't it show a bad will to delay expansion with the excuse that the rules of the game must be transformed in order for the EU to run better when it has 20 or 26 members?"
Nougayrede goes on: "Central Europeans find the target (of EU membership) they are seeking to reach is really a moving one." She recalls the remark of a Romanian participant at a recent Paris conference: "Sometimes," he said, "I have the impression that the Union treats us the way shop assistants used to do in the Communist era: 'What, you don't like what's in the window? Too bad, it's that or nothing."
NEW YORK TIMES: The two goals are incompatible
Turning to Persian Gulf affairs, the New York Times yesterday warned of "wishful thinking in Iraq." The paper wrote: "By turning international weapons inspectors away from the headquarters of its ruling party Wednesday, Iraq showed why the United Nations Security Council should make no move toward lifting economic sanctions."
The paper explained: "(U.S.) Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was right to warn promptly that Washington will hold up any review of Iraq's status until Baghdad honors its pledge of unhindered access for the weapons investigators. The surprise inspections that began Tuesday, in which UN specialists look for hidden materials and records with little advance notification, are particularly important."
The editorial went on: "Wednesday's incident was perfectly consistent with Saddam Hussein's seven-year record of obstruction.... Saddam never ceases to hunt for ways to divide the Security Council in hopes that he can limit inspections while winning relief from sanctions. The two goals are incompatible. The only route to lifting sanctions is full cooperation with inspections."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: It would be no loss for the community of nations if Khatami turned out to be the pallbearer
The apparent murder this week in Tehran of an independent Iranian writer evokes strong comment in two German newspapers. In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung today, Tomas Avenarius writes in a commentary: "The sheer contempt for humanity shown by Iran's pious Islamic hard-liners in their bitter fight against every attempt to liberalize their theocratic regime is both frightening and disgusting."
He goes on: "Iranian author Mohammed Mochtari, whose declared aim had been to establish an independent writers' association, was strangled to death....Mochtari's killers have followed in the long tradition started by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the revolutionary cleric who led the Islamic fundamentalist movement (to power) in the late 1970s. Khomeini had no more scruples about using the institutionalized murder of dissidents in what he saw as Islam's service than do his successors, who have been forced into a corner since (moderate Mohammed) Khatami became president (last year)."
The commentary also says: "Even well-meaning supporters have to admit that Khomeini's system was a political dead-end for Iran. President Khatami may have come onto the Iranian political scene as a reformer, but it would be no loss for the community of nations --or for Islam-- if he turned out to be the pallbearer for the theocracy of Iran's mullahs, just as Mikhail Gorbachev was for the Soviet Union."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: The regime incarnates the great inquisition
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says in an editorial that "it is not enough to have a president like Khatami, who supports tolerance, when the entire (Iranian) regime is based on intolerance. Twenty years after the so-called Islamic revolution one now has to fear more than ever for the lives of Iranian intellectuals."
The editorial continues: "The writers Mohammad Mochtari and Madschid Sharif have (recently) been found dead. A third author, Mohammed Puyandeh, is missing. This seems to indicate that the extremists in the Iranian regime have drawn up lists and are now systematically hunting down any critical voices."
The FAZ also says: "Four years ago, 134 Iranian authors published an open letter demanding freedom of expression. Now the regime (in Teheran seems) set on revenge....It's hard to believe that a turn for the better has taken place in Iran. In the end Khatami, who has seemed to strive to improve his country, is really the exception to the rule in a regime that incarnates the great inquisition."
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: As Iran's domestic political battles heat up, the risk of increased violence is great
The Wall Street Journal Europe carries a commentary today on "How Iran Does Business" by Kenneth Timmerman, a U.S. investigative reporter. He writes: "Several weeks ago, in Tehran, Iranian radicals stormed a tourist bus carrying 13 Americans, pounding on its sides with iron bars and smashing the windows....The Americans on board were not spies, but neither were they tourists. They were...businessmen...in search of new commercial opportunities in the Islamic Republic of Iran."
Timmerman goes on: "What's new (about this) is not the interest of U.S. oil (and other) companies in Iran...but the reaction of the Iranian Government. According to press accounts in Tehran, the November 21 attack was carried out by the Fedayeen Eslam, a terrorist group that is closely tied to the dominant government faction led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has advocated a limited opening of Iran to foreign investment and foreign influence."
The commentary also says: "Inside Iran, the radical faction within the ruling clergy has taken off its gloves. On November 24, the leading secular opponent to the regime, Darioush Forouhar, was brutally murdered...along with his wife, Parveneh Eskandiari, a well-known feminist and political leader in her own right. Since then, dissidents in Tehran say an opposition journalist, Majid Dharif, has been killed under mysterious circumstances, while three other well-known dissidents have disappeared without explanation."
Timmerman sums up: "A battle royal (between moderates and Islamic radicals) for the future of Iran is under way....As Iran's domestic political battles heat up, the risk of increased violence is great."