Prague, 10 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press today comments on possibilities and implications of this weekend's Helsinki summit of the European Union and issues arising from Russia's continued bombardment of Chechnya.
DIE WELT: The project of eastward enlargement is a truly historic one
In Germany, commentator Andreas Middel writes in Die Welt about the European Union heads of state who will be meeting this weekend in Helsinki, Finland's capital, to discuss the inclusion of more European countries in the EU. He says that, with work, a unified European continent is attainable.
"Even though actually reuniting the continent will take years," he writes, "and even though there will be many setbacks to overcome, for the EU the project of eastward enlargement is a truly historic one."
Enthusiasm is not to be found among the populations, Middel says. He points to the difficulties that Germany had when its eastern and western halves came together. East German "Ossis" feared that rich West German "Wessis" would buy up everything in their land, while Wessis feared that Ossis would steal their jobs. But this lack of enthusiasm can be an advantage -- if the people have low expectations of unification, governments will not have to burst any illusions.
Now, the German commentator says, a thoroughgoing reform of the EU power apparatus is, in his words, "urgently necessary." The principle of unanimity in decision-making must be scrapped, and voting rights in the decision-making bodies must be distributed more fairly. Middel says the most powerful EU countries -- Germany, France, and Britain -- will not give up power easily, as is evidenced by their speedy collaboration on a common EU defense policy.
Middel concludes: "The decision that will be made in Helsinki is only the visible external sign of a new beginning for Europe at the turn of the millennium. External opening, internal reform, demonstrations of common ground at all levels -- there is nothing to stand in the way of realizing the European dream of reuniting a continent. If only the EU powers-that-be want to."
SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Austria and Slovakia are looking at the summit in vastly different ways
In more German commentary on the possible expansion of the EU, Daniel Broessler, writing in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, says two neighboring countries are looking at the summit in vastly different ways. As he puts it, "(Slovakia) can celebrate its greatest diplomatic coup since the country gained independence in 1993." Broessler continues, "(Austria) meanwhile is viewing the summit...as its worst setback ever."
The EU has decided not to require candidate countries to give up their nuclear-power facilities if those facilities are brought up to Western standards within five to seven years. Broessler says this means that, as he puts it, "The Slovak's Soviet-era reactor at Bohunice, just 120 kilometers from Vienna, will stay online now with the EU's blessing."
This will be upsetting to Austria, Broessler says. In his words: "Nuclear-free Austria would have gladly approved of Slovakia's convergence towards EU acceptability were it linked to coming closer to its fervent hope of a nuclear-free neighborhood. But that is now out of the question." Still, Austria will not block Slovakia's entry, Broessler says, because the Austrians are too isolated on this issue.
WASHINGTON POST: Eurodefense presents the U.S. with a dilemma
The Washington Post offers more commentary on the Helsinki talks in its editorial today. Instead of EU expansion, though, the editorial considers the plan to increase European defense cooperation. In the editorial's words, "[This] presents the U.S. with a dilemma."
The new Eurodefense, the editorial says, will be a force of 60,000 troops that could be deployed quickly and stay in the field for up to a year. Impetus for the force came largely from perceptions that Europe's contribution to NATO's campaign in Kosovo was insufficient. "This weakness threatens to corrode NATO," the Post says. "It breeds American resentment of European wimpishness and European resentment of American domination."
The dilemma that the U.S. faces is this, as the editorial puts it: "On one hand, America has long argued for a more robust European contribution to defense. ... On the other hand, European-only defense schemes raise questions about Europe's commitment to its transatlantic ties." U.S. politicians, the editorial says, are worried about Europe "drifting away from NATO."
The paper offers two suggestions that will help keep the transatlantic alliance healthy: if Europe creates a defense force, it should be integrated with NATO and only used outside of the alliance when NATO's leadership has decided not to act. And Europe must increase its defense budgets. Until European countries spend as much on defense as the U.S .does, the paper contends, the U.S. will not believe that Europe is serious about strengthening NATO.
FINANCIAL TIMES: The transatlantic alliance must change
In London's Financial Times, columnist Philip Stephens takes a lengthy look at the plans for the Eurodefense. He starts off: "The European Union should not be deterred from granting itself a little independence from America."
In Stephens' words, "The transatlantic alliance must change. A set of strategic arrangements shaped by the Cold War cannot remain frozen a decade beyond the thaw. The conflicts in the former Yugoslavia have persuaded European governments they must do more in the case of their own security." The commentator continues, "Politics in Washington no longer allows the sacrifice of American GIs to nasty little wars in places the voters haven't heard of."
But the idea of a European army brings tension to the transatlantic alliance, the commentator says. Some Americans feel threatened by the idea of losing their status of being the world's policeman, he says, and some Europeans want exactly that to happen.
Yet, the commentator points out, world peacekeeping is not going to change so quickly. As he puts it, "The architecture of this European defense identity exists only on paper. It will take a radical restructuring of national defense forces and industries and a lot more public money to start putting the buildings up. There is precious little sign of that happening. Even when it does," he says, "it will be decades before the EU can conduct serious military operation without the U.S. technology and intelligence available to NATO."
Stephens says that if the EU is serious about a defense, it needs to be candid about its objective, which is to reduce European dependence on the United States in European defense matters. He concludes by saying, "It is hard to imagine how such a modest shift in the balance of power could fracture NATO."
NEW YORK TIMES: Russia should move toward a political settlement in Chechnya
The New York Times in an editorial today examines another source of tension -- the recent provocative statements made in China by Russian President Boris Yeltsin, irritated at Western criticism of the war in Chechnya. Yeltsin said that U.S. President Bill Clinton has forgotten Russia is a great power that possesses a full nuclear arsenal and that Clinton, in Yeltsin's words, "cannot dictate how the world should, live, work and play. It is we who will dictate."
The New York Times says: "President Boris Yeltsin is known for his occasional bombast, some of it playful, some angry, some merely erratic. But when the man who commands the largest nuclear stockpile in the world rattles that arsenal after he gives his vintage bear hug to President Jiang Zemin of China, the scene is, at best, unsettling."
Comfort returned later, the editorial says, when Russia's prime minister, Vladimir Putin, emphasized the stability of overall relations between the U.S. and Russia.
The editorial says that while Clinton has not been strident in his criticism of Russia's Chechen policy, he has called it inhumane and self-defeating, not only militarily but also politically, as it harms Russia's image abroad.
The New York Times advises: "Russia should absorb that analysis and move toward a political settlement in Chechnya. Meanwhile, despite Yeltsin's outburst, the signals from the White House and Putin underscored an important point about the larger framework of Russian-American relations. Both countries have a strong interest in seeing continued progress on combating nuclear proliferation and safeguarding the transition to democracy."