Prague, 6 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- "Washington is returning to work today, and to the threat of political paralysis," writes Britain's Financial Times in an editorial. As the 106th Congress convenes, Western press commentators have begun to re-focus on Washington. But many analysts are still assessing the importance of the European Union's euro, the new single currency that was launched late last week.
FINANCIAL TIMES: We are little the wiser about he future of the presidency
The Financial Times' editorial notes that 12 days from now (Jan. 18) President "Bill Clinton is due to deliver his seventh...State of the Union address." But," the paper adds, "above all else, America's politicians must decide to banish the ghost of Monica Lewinsky." The paper goes on: "As Mr. Clinton confronts the prospect of an imminent trial in the Senate, we are little the wiser about the future of the presidency....What is needed now is a speedy agreement between Republicans and Democrats on the conduct of Mr. Clinton's trial -- and a similar consensus that the process be as expeditious as fairness allows."
The paper says further that, "as long as Mr. Clinton shows suitable contrition, the bipartisan proposal under discussion in recent days offers an honorable compromise. This," the paper explains, "would provide for an abbreviated hearing lasting a few days followed by a 'test' vote. The purpose would be to see whether...there was a sufficient majority to convict him."
According to the FT, "an early vote would see the Senate address from the outset the core issue in this sorry saga. In the end, it is about proportionality. Mr. Clinton lied about his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. But is that sufficient cause to depose a president?"
NEW YORK TIMES: Trent Lott is faced with one of the biggest challenges
The New York Times today also endorses the bipartisan proposal, but warns that "some influential Republicans are blocking the plan adopted by their majority leader, Trent Lott, to move the Senate with appropriate speed toward a censure verdict that conforms with the public will, the evidence against Clinton and the national interest."
The paper's editorial continues: "Insisting on a rigidity that the constitution does not require, conservative Republicans are calling for a prolonged trial with witnesses whose testimony they know will not lead to conviction. Some more moderate Republicans...have also lined up against Lott who is not powerless by any means. The 45 Democrats and a sizable number of Republican moderates will not vote for removal."
The NYT concludes: "Figuring out a way to enable that majority to adjourn the trial after two or three weeks and then pass censure adds up to the biggest challenge faced by any recent majority leader. Lott wants to avoid tying up the Senate and the nation in a trial that lasts for months. If he succeeds, he will have made a remarkable transition from the partisanship of his early career to the statesmanship required by these messy days."
WASHINGTON POST: Washington has lost touch and respect
In the Washington Post today, journalist Robert J. Samuelson says that in his 30 years in Washington he has "never witnessed such a huge disconnect as now between the nation's capital and the rest of the country. The capital," he goes on, "is transfixed by Clinton's impeachment. Meanwhile, the rest of the country hardly seems to care. Most Americans felt that 1998 was a good year for them (72 percent) and their community (78 percent), reports a recent poll....Impeachment? Only 32 percent had followed the story closely, and 64 percent said that "the media is giving it too much attention."
Samuelson's commentary argues: "The growing separation of Washington from the rest of the country is no fluke. It's one of the defining trends of my 30 years here....What I mean by Washington is the political community -- the...'governing class.' It consists of politicians, congressional staffers, White House aides, political appointees, top bureaucrats, the press, lobbyists, think-tank experts and the staffs of interest and advocacy groups."
He concludes: "This insularity exposes Washington types to shocks from the hinterlands. Democrats were stunned by their loss of Congress in 1994; Republicans were stunned by their setbacks in 1998. Americans have increasingly defined down what they expect of political leaders. In Washington, Clinton's impeachment seems extraordinary; elsewhere, it's seen as the same old stuff, albeit at a higher level. This is a sad and apt commentary on three decades of change: Washington, though no less interesting, has lost touch and respect."
What's left to say about the euro, the new common money adopted by 11 EU members that was launched on January 1? A lot, according to the volume of press commentary devoted to the subject today.
LE MONDE: Money is a precious instrument of power
The French national daily Le Monde hails the world's new monetary "menage a trois' -- literally, household of three, the U.S. dollar, the Japanese yen and the EU's euro. "For the past several days," the paper says, "Europe has no longer been quite what it was before. As proof...just follow Kezio Obuchi on his current trip to the three principle countries of the euro-zone, France, Germany and Italy...The Japanese prime minister is clearly assessing the importance of our brand new money."
Le Monde continues: "The conclusion that Mr. Obuchi will draw from his voyage is a fundamental one: his country represents one of the three poles of the new international monetary system, based on the dollar, euro and yen. Japan remains, however, the planet's richest country, in terms of savings and balance of payments, and is the U.S.'s biggest creditor."
But, the paper adds, "if Japan is an economic giant, it remains, like Europe, a 'political dwarf' in regard to imperial correct America. Thus, Mr. Obuchi is well-placed to understand how much money can be a precious instrument of power."
WALL STREET JOURNAL: The term 'Euroland' troubles the French
In a more light-hearted mode, the Wall Street Journal Europe today is struck by the fact that "the euro is not a week old and already its French imprimatur is in question." The paper comments on the French reaction to the use of the word "Euroland" to describe collectively those countries participating in the euro. It notes that "a full-fledged debate has ensued over what a viable alternative might be."
The WSJ goes on: "Two of France's most prominent newspapers have declared themselves on the issue. Le Monde has chosen pointedly to stick to the unorthodox Euroland, though apparently not without acrimony since one editor pointed out yesterday that by using this 'decidedly controversial' term without quotation marks, the paper risked shocking some of its readers....By contrast, the daily Liberation has opted to go with the more French-sound Eurolande which, it observed with politically correct satisfaction, would also be a feminine noun."
"But," the paper points out, "the French government, and the Banque de France, will still have none of this. They have opted for the far-out sounding 'zone euro'....We rather like that idea," says the paper with some irony. "Euroland does sound like a certain theme park that is, Disneyland...while Eurozone would be more streamlined, although admittedly it does sound a bit like an air freshener."
WALL STREET JOURNAL: The euro is the ultimate expression of Europe's faith in itself
On the same WSJ page today, U.S. Ambassador to France Felix Rohatyn -- himself European-born -- writes that "the euro is more than just a new currency; it is the ultimate expression of Europe's faith in itself....In judging the euro's possible impact," his commentary goes on, "it is important to remember that the 11...countries that joined up in EU Economic and Monetary Union made the launch of their new currency their number one political and economic priority....The euro therefore is the expression of considerable political will and sacrifice."
Turning to the U.S.' view of the euro, Rohatyn writes:
"Economically speaking, what is good for the U.S. is good for Europe, and vice versa. We have parallel interests in economic stability and financial soundness." He adds: "The U.S. has an enormous interest in the success of the euro....Its success will be determined by the progress of economic and political integration in Europe; by its role in stimulating economic growth and the reduction of unemployment; by how it encourages structural reforms in such areas as labor markets; and by how it encourages the enlargement of the EU."
Rohatyn concludes: "A successful euro would put Europe in a position to fulfill the role of a true trans-Atlantic partner to the American economy as well as to fulfill its vital role in the enlargement of NATO and the EU. This will hopefully happen over time, and its success will benefit both Europe and the U.S."
GLOBE AND MAIL: How long must Eastern countries hammer on the door before Europe lets them in?
The Canadian daily Globe and Mail carries a signed editorial by Marcus Gee that says: "The triumphant debut of the euro is a golden moment for those who dream of a unified, peaceful and powerful Europe, free from the awful divisions and conflicts of the past. If monetary union succeeds as well as the single market established in 1993, the EU goal of "ever closer union" -- set in the Dutch town of Maastricht in 1991 -- no longer seems fanciful."
The editorial continues: "But while Europe steps confidently forward on monetary union, it is dragging its feet on another, equally important part of the European project: expansion to the east. Ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the newly free countries of Eastern Europe have been desperate to rejoin the European mainstream. Almost from the day the wall came down, they have been lobbying for membership in Europe's two great institutions: NATO (for military security) and the EU (for economic progress)."
Gee adds: "When the wall fell, there was talk of admitting the first Eastern members by 2000. By 1997, the suggested date had been pushed back to 2002. Now EU officials privately admit to European newspapers that the Easterners may have to wait until 2005 or 2006, and even then will face restrictions that will make them second-class citizens for as much as a decade more."
He concludes: "In the grim years of Soviet domination, the countries of the East were cut off from the rest of Europe. In the decade since, they have done their utmost to show they are ready and willing to be part of the European family again. How long must they hammer on the door before Europe lets them in?"