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Western Press Review: U.S., European Press Comments On Two 'Scandals'

By Don Hill/Dora Slaba/Anthony Georgieff

Prague, 12 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Commentators in European and U.S. newspapers continue today to devote pages of commentary and analysis to major scandals confronting their readers. In the United States, the scandal, of course, surrounds President Bill Clinton. In Europe, it's allegations of corruption within the European Commission.

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: The European Commission must not be allowed to slip away unpunished

The Danish 'Berlingske Tidende' daily, in an editorial today, predicts that "Regardless of the seriousness of the accusations against several EU commissioners, the European Parliament that is supposed to exercise control over the Commission (will not) gather the necessary two-thirds majority to remove it from power. If this did happen, the EU would be hurled into a deep and possibly long crisis". The paper adds that Europe, "in urgent need of reforms, has not got the time" for such a development.

But the 'Berlingske Tidende' adds that "On the other hand, the European Commission must not be allowed to slip away unpunished." It says that "The individual commissioners that are being charged with corruption or of muzzling their inferiors not to reveal (incriminating) evidence must explain themselves in the European Parliament. If their explanations are not satisfactory, they must resign."

TIMES: The biggest danger is a no confidence vote in the French and Spanish commissioners

Times of London correspondent Charles Bremmer writes in an analysis from Brussels that European Commission President Jacques Santer's concessions to reformers may protect the commission as a body, but that individual commissioners remain at risk.

Bremmer says: "The concessions meant that the prospect of a censure motion (passing this Thursday) receded but (deputies') anger over the record of individual commissioners still could bring a damaging vote against Edith Cresson of France and Manuel Marin of Spain."

He writes: "The biggest danger for the commission now is a strong vote for a Liberal motion of no confidence in the French and Spanish commissioners, who have been linked most closely with multimillion-(dollar) abuses in the administration of EU programs."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Germany's first Social Democratic chancellor would have to forget his reform plans for the EU

Writing today in the 'Sueddeutsche Zeitung', Winfried Muenster comments that the EC scandal could render German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder politically impotent as Germany begins its six-month presidency of the commission. Muenster writes: "Germany's first Social Democratic chancellor in 16 years would have to forget his reform plans for the European Union should the EU's executive body be forced to resign...." The writer concludes: "Schroeder, therefore, has good reason to crack the whip to influence the members of the European Parliament ahead of Thursday's vote. Never has Bonn needed Brussels so urgently. And, for that matter, seldom have Bonn and Brussels worked so well together as now, despite all the corruption scandals plaguing the EU."

LIBERATION: The European Parliament can now help in promoting a political union

Paris' Liberation editorializes today that the European Parliament should seize this opportunity to restore confidence in European democracy. Liberation says: "The European Parliament, which has the right to adopt a no-confidence vote, can now help in promoting a political union. There is sufficient motive to topple this commission -- its attitude toward the mad-cow disease alone is unworthy of democratic systems and should have led to its resignation. It did not do so, and the Parliament didn't dare to move a no-confidence vote. But this time the situation is even more serious. The commission is incapable of reacting to suspicions of encumbered deceit and nepotism and has lost its credibility in the eyes of the European public."

LA STAMPE: Many commissioners smell a rat underlying the German attack

Turin's La Stampe says it suspects hidden motives in Germany's reaction to the scandal. In an editorial, the Italian paper says: "The most difficult week in the four-year existence of the EU Commission is beginning.

Many of the commissioners smell a rat underlying the attack of Germany, whose European deputies freely express their view of the European Commission -- the Christian Democrats, because they have become the opposition (in Germany), and the Social Democrats concerned not to be outdone by the Greens in their demand for a reduction in the German contribution."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The big question is whether groups can unite

A writer in the British newspaper Financial Times likens a European Parliament censure vote against the entire commission to a massive nuclear retaliation. Neil Buckley writes from Brussels: "The nuclear option of a censure vote against the commission looked unlikely yesterday." Buckley continues: "The big question is whether groups can unite around attempts to target individual commissioners."

WASHINGTON POST: The scandal won't be leaving us any time soon

In the United States, a senior editor for the newsmagazine, U.S. News and World Report, comments in The Washington Post that the American public hopes in vain that the impeachment trial and possible censure, or more, of President Clinton will end the scandal.

Editor Marianne Lavelle writes: "It's not going to happen. While the Senate plays out its scenes on center stage, independent counsel Kenneth Starr's prosecutors are waiting in the wings, preparing for the next act." Lavelle concludes: "So, the scandal won't be leaving us any time soon, and both sides know it. Hillary Clinton has famously remarked that she fully anticipates Starr's investigation to continue until after her husband leaves office. And (Starr spokesman Charles) Bakaly has somewhat less famously confirmed the first lady's fear, telling reporters at a breakfast meeting last November that, if anything, her two-year estimate may have been a conservative one."

NEW YORK TIMES: The indictment of Julie Steele is a frightening symbol

New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis charges today that special prosecutor Starr is himself engaged in abuse of legal authority. Lewis writes: "On the day that the Senate began its trial of President Clinton, Kenneth Starr had a grand jury indict Julie Hiatt Steele. She is a remote, peripheral figure in the Starr campaign against the president, and a single mother without resources. Yet the independent counsel, unaccountable and obsessed, has set out to grind her to dust.

"The indictment of Julie Steele was more telling than all the solemn repetitions of (the name of) William Jefferson Clinton in the Senate. It was a frightening symbol, a metaphor for a process run riot. Ms. Steele is a target of Kenneth Starr for one reason: She will not support the story of Kathleen Willey, a woman who said Clinton made a pass at her in the White House in 1993."

SUEDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: In this sort of trial nothing can be taken for granted

America watcher Josef Joffe is one of a few European commentators still discussing the Clinton ordeal. He writes in today's 'Sueddeutsche Zeitung' that conviction and removal of Clinton by the U.S. Senate, however unlikely, isn't yet out of the question. Joffe writes: "Everything seemed clear after the House of Representatives, acting as prosecutor, voted to impeach President Bill Clinton. The Republicans would never, it was said, round up the two-thirds majority from the 100 senators who will act as jury in the Clinton impeachment trial."

Joffe concludes, "However, it should not be forgotten that the Senate, often seen as the most exclusive club in the world, is not a voting machine. It sees itself as a free-thinking body. It is going to be a long haul, and in this sort of trial nothing can be taken for granted."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: The Clinton administration has many policies

There also is commentary from both sides of the Atlantic on the U.S.-Iraq confrontation. The International Herald Tribune today publishes a commentary by Washington Post editorial writer and columnist Fred Hiatt. Hiatt says that U.S. policy on Iraq is muddled by too many faces. He writes ironically: "Some accuse the Clinton administration of lacking a policy toward Iraq. This is unfair. It has many. There is the policy of overthrowing Saddam Hussein." Hiatt continues: "There's the policy explicated by Clinton's commander in chief of Persian Gulf forces, Gen. Anthony Zinni, who said last week that his primary mission is to provide stability." Hiatt goes on: "There's the policy of disarming Iraq."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Iraq is trying to arouse world sympathy

Alan Phelps writes in an analysis in The Daily Telegraph, London, that Iraq is trying to win world support by provoking the United States to excess. He writes: "The U.S. strike (yesterday) is the latest in a series of incidents provoked by Iraq, which is hoping to shoot down an American or British plane or at least to arouse world sympathy against (what Iraq calls) 'the thieves and outlaws' patrolling its skies."

AFTENPOSTEN: The United Nations does not have the resources to start an intelligence agency of its own

In Norway, Per Christiansen comments in the daily Aftenposten: "Nobody should be surprised at the allegations that the United Nations and the United States have cooperated in spying on Iraq. The main question, however, is how much the fact the United States used the UN inspectors as spies is in discord with the UN's rules and the (international) monitors' mandate." The writer says: "The United Nations has neither the capacity, nor the equipment, nor the human resources to start an intelligence agency of its own. The United States (was asked to) contribute by installing electronic devices to observe Saddam's military installations."

BALTIMORE SUN: The air strikes were in complete violation of UN decisions

A fellow at the U.S.-based Institute of Policy Studies argues in a commentary today in The Baltimore Sun that U.S. actions in Iraq have been lawless. The scholar, Phyllis Bennis, says: "Iraq was not the only target of last month's (U.S.-led) missile attacks. They also represented a lethal U.S. assault on international law and the legitimacy of the United Nations. Despite Clinton administration claims to the contrary, the air strikes were in complete violation of UN decisions. There is no U.N. resolution that calls for, allows or accepts unilateral military acts to punish Iraq for real or alleged violations."