Prague, 27 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Our selection of Western press commentary today touches on a variety of subjects. Some analysts discuss the European Union's increasing troubles with its new common currency, the euro, and the EU's likely difficulties in admitting 10 Central and East European nations in coming years. Others assess problems between the U.S. and Russia over Washington's project for a national missile defense system, and China's continuing crackdown on the Falun Gong spiritual movement.
FINANCIAL TIMES: The euro is likely to remain weak
Britain's Daily Telegraph tries to explain why the euro -- the EU single currency introduced in January 1999 among 11 of its 15 members -- is steadily losing value. In the paper's words, "the euro looks absurdly cheap, but no one is buying it." The editorial notes that "the currency that was supposed to rival the dollar has lost 20 percent of its value against the American currency in [the past] 16 months." It says that, despite forecasts of average 3.5 percent economic growth this year for euro-zone economies, "the problem is that the European upturn looks considerably less impressive when judged in a larger context."
The paper says further that Britain -- not a euro nation -- "is likely to grow as fast as the euro-zone economy this year and America faster still." The EU's economic performance, it argues, "is just not good enough to persuade international investors to abandon those economies which have turned in consistently strong growth and provided high returns for a number of years."
The editorial adds: "Investors are also troubled by the uneven performance of the euro economy, with some countries, like Ireland, growing too fast, while others, like Italy, are still looking sickly." Most important in the euro's decline, it says, is the continuing need for structural economic reforms "to make the euro-zone economy capable of achieving strong growth not just for one year or two, but year after year. Until that happens," the British paper concludes, "the euro is likely to remain weak."
BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: Soon the bank will be worrying about an overvalued euro
In Denmark -- another one of the four EU members not in the euro-zone -- the daily Berlingske Tidende is more optimistic about the currency's immediate future. It writes in an editorial: "The free fall of the euro -- which yesterday reached new record lows against the U.S. dollar -- reflects a political rather than economic assessment." The paper says: "There are both pros and cons on the issue of the low euro exchange rate. On one hand, it makes European products cheaper to export and thus more competitive. On the other, it makes imports more expensive and creates inflationary pressures." And, the editorial adds, "if there is one thing [Germany and other] large EU nations feel extremely uncomfortable about -- because of past experience -- it is uncontrolled inflation."
For that reason, the editorial goes on, the EU's European Central Bank was likely today to announce "interest-rate increases designed to push the euro upwards. A rate increase," it continues, "will further boost export opportunities and -- together with stricter financial policies to limit public spending -- help the euro's exchange rate rise in the near future." Before too long, the paper predicts, the bank "will be worrying as much about an overvalued euro as it is now concerned about its undervaluation."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Fundamental EU institutional reform is needed
In a commentary for the International Herald Tribune, Roy Denman -- a former EU Executive Commission representative in Washington -- offers some advice to the commission's beleaguered president, Romano Prodi of Italy. Denman says: "The biggest change needed is fundamental institutional reform."
He explains: "Europe is today divided between those -- mainly the original [EU] six, who are prepared to move to the closer political integration foreseen by the [EU's founding] declaration of 1950 -- and a minority, headed by Britain, who have long wanted nothing more than a free-trade arrangement. This question," Denman argues, "will have to be solved before negotiations can be concluded with the 12 countries now seeking to enter the EU. Otherwise a union of 28 countries [including Turkey as well as Cyprus and Malta] will be unable to agree on anything."
"Sad to say," Denman continues, "the gap between the two camps shows no sign of closing. That is why the [recent public] invitation from [former French president] Valery Giscard d'Estaing and [former German Chancellor] Helmut Schmidt to the founding members of the European Union to forge ahead to a federation -- with as many others as will join them -- is of such importance." The initiative, Denman says, "is not an attempt to divide Europe. Europe is divided. The proposal is the best hope of ending the division eventually. [It] is a call to arms for Europe. Let us hope it will be heeded."
FINANCIAL TIMES: It is important that the UN review should give fresh impetus to disarmament
The Financial Times of Britain comments today on the current month-long United Nations review of the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the NPT). It writes in an editorial: "We have learned to live with the nuclear bomb, the only weapon of mass destruction that exists legally and in large enough quantities to destroy the world." So, says the paper, "it is all the more important that the [UN] review should give fresh impetus to disarmament."
"But," the editorial goes on, "one big issue -- the U.S. plans for National Missile Defense, [known as NMD] -- risks overshadowing all others. Russia -- which is resisting any amendment of the  U.S.-Russian Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty to permit a U.S. NMD shield -- raised the stakes this week. It claimed NMD could wreck arms control. Russia told the 182 non-weapons states in the NPT that only if the ABM treaty stayed unchanged could they get rapid nuclear disarmament."
The paper says further: "Russia may be bluffing. For lack of money, it may unilaterally have to cut its arsenal. But, in theory at least, Moscow can turn its warnings into a self-fulfilling prophesy." It adds: "If the U.S. abandons the ABM treaty, Russia will not agree to any more cuts in its offensive weapons, and so could indefinitely postpone the day when those with smaller nuclear stockpiles -- Britain, France and China -- feel obliged to join multilateral disarmament talks."
NEW YORK TIMES: A better deal is no deal at all
New York Times columnist William Safire is also concerned with missiles and missile defenses. He says in a commentary that the chief subject of the planned U.S-Russian summit in Moscow in six weeks will be "Russia's need to cut the cost of maintaining thousands of missiles aimed at the U.S., and America's need for limited defense against rogue-nation missiles."
Safire continues: "The threat to American cities is no longer from the huge Soviet missile arsenal, as it was when the ABM Treaty was signed three decades ago. That's when the superpowers agreed to stay vulnerable, each largely defenseless against the other's nuclear weaponry. Today the growing threat comes from rogue states [such as North Korea, Iraq and Iran] and terrorists."
The commentator says that Russia's new President Vladimir Putin "knows that a limited [U.S.] missile defense poses no threat to Russia's deterrent," but is using the issue as what Safire calls a "valuable bargaining chip." He then warns that President Bill Clinton could be taken in by the ploy and agree to what the columnist calls "a puny, not limited, defense." Safire concludes: "A better deal is no deal at all. Kick the can of worms (tangled problem) that is serious national missile defense down the street to the next president, who will have a fresh mandate to ensure American safety."
WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The real value of a missile defense is deterrence
A defense of the projected U.S. National Missile Defense is provided in a Wall Street Journal Europe commentary by James Hackett, a U.S. national-security official under Republican presidents in the 1970s and 1980s. Hackett writes: "Opponents of the NMD program used to argue that the technology wouldn't work. But after decades of development, the key hit-to-kill technology now is successful. Over the past year, there have been seven direct hits of dummy warheads in tests of four different missile interceptors, including the first flight test of the NMD interceptor."
For Hackett, "The real value of a missile defense is deterrence. A defense," he says, "will deter missile threats and blackmail as well as a missile attack. It will diminish the value of nuclear weapons and the missiles that deliver them. What dictator," he asks, "will spend thousands of millions [of dollars] to acquire such weapons when there are effective defenses?"
Hackett argues: "Long-range missiles are spreading today precisely because there are no defenses against them. Considering all this, a national missile defense that costs less than 1 percent of the defense budget annually is a real bargain for the American people."
WASHINGTON POST: This is a regime that plays by its own rules
Turning to China, a Washington Post editorial says that Beijing's "harsh treatment of Falun Gong adherents has [now] become routine." It calls the brutal repression yesterday in the Chinese capital of a demonstration by Falun Gong followers "not surprising: Police dragged dozens of people to jail, where no doubt more will be abused and ordered to renounce their beliefs."
The editorial goes on: "All of this violates the commitments China undertook in signing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1998. And," it adds, "China is no more respectful of international law with regard to non-Chinese. Thousands of people from famine-stricken North Korea have made their way to northeast China, where they live at the margins of society, fearing arrest and repatriation, but where they can at least find something to eat. This week, about 100 North Koreans at a Chinese detention camp rioted to resist being returned, [but] China's authorities subdued them and sent them home [to likely execution]."
The paper says that China's actions "violate the 1951 international convention on refugees, of which the People's Republic is a signatory. But this is a regime," it concludes, "that plays by its own rules."
DAILY TELEGRAPH: The Chinese state belongs in the dock
The Daily Telegraph's editorial on China is entitled "Paranoia in Beijing." The paper writes: "Falun Gong members -- practitioners of the breathing discipline 'qiqong' -- have proved remarkably persistent in the face of savage persecution. Last July, the sect was banned as a danger to the nation. Hundreds of its leaders have been imprisoned. Thousands more have been sent to labor camps without trial."
Such repression, the paper adds, "has severely damaged Falun Gong's organization, but has increased foreign sympathy for its plight." The editorial goes on: "At a time when slowing economic growth is undermining the Communists' sole claim to legitimacy -- and when half a century of dialectical materialism has left a huge spiritual vacuum -- the appeal of a sect like Falun Gong is obvious."
The paper then asks: "Is it a portent of the kind of 'people power' that overthrew Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines in 1986? The odds are against it. But that is no reason for not saluting the bravery of those who continue to defy an unjust ban. It is the Chinese state, not the sect, that belongs in the [judicial] dock."
(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this report.)