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Western Press Review: EU Problems, Iran's Spy Trial

Prague, 4 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western newspapers devote much of their comments today to the European Union. They focus especially on yesterday's decision to reshuffle the top staff of the EU's Executive Commission, the continuing rapid fall in value of the Union's common currency, the euro, and this week's merger of the London and Frankfurt stock exchanges. There is also some commentary on the current trial of 13 Iranian Jews for alleged spying.

IRISH TIMES: Appointing top EU bureaucrat should strengthen the European Commission

An editorial in the Irish Times calls the European Commission reshuffle long overdue. The paper says: "Recent failures in management and communications strategies had begun to affect the Commission's overall credibility at a sensitive time in the EU's affairs." Appointing top EU bureaucrat David O'Sullivan of Ireland as the Commission's Secretary General, it adds, "should strengthen the institution, make it more capable of managing reform and change in its own structures, and restore its primary role of policy initiation." The editorial notes that O'Sullivan faces the tough task of implementing reforms after last year's mass resignation of a Commission led by Jacques Santer amid charges of corruption. It also cites what it calls "the somewhat uncertain start made by [present Commission President Romano] Prodi, and his colleagues." Fortunately, the paper says, current "uncertainty [about the Commission] has more to do with presentation than with substance."

The editorial continues: "The trouble has been that as Commission president, Mr. Prodi has been alarmingly prone to tactical accidents and occasional political gaffes. As a result," the Irish Times says, "he has not communicated his political program as effectively as he should have been able to do, or to manage its implementation in an optimal fashion. These personnel changes are intended to address such shortcomings and have a good likelihood of doing so."

DIE WELT: The speed of the devaluation comes as no surprise to specialists

As the euro continues to lose value, Western Europe's papers are lining up to try to explain what's gone wrong. Writing in the German daily Die Welt, Beatrice Wirth blames the euro's fall on the increased use of technology to link global currency markets. She says: "Currency experts already see the current exchange rate [under 90 U.S. cents] as unrealistic. But," she goes on, "even if the loss of confidence in the single currency can hardly be explained fully as a matter of fundamentals, the speed of the devaluation comes as no surprise to specialists." That's because, she adds, "the increasingly hectic search for opportunities by investors and the global networking of currency trading cause exchange rates to deviate more and more strongly within an increasingly shorter period."

Wirth notes that technology has opened foreign-exchange markets to more and more speculators, most of whom have little interest in a currency's long-term potential. She writes: "The slightest bit of political or economic news can heat up speculation. Minimal changes in the inflation rate, for instance, are enough to unleash a worldwide avalanche on the foreign-exchange markets. The reason is," she argues, "that traders in Europe, Japan and the U.S. get the news simultaneously." The commentary sums up: "[Currency] trading is done around the clock. Pressure is enormous, reactions as quick as lightning."

INFORMATION: Something has gone fundamentally wrong

Denmark's daily Information sees the euro's fall very differently -- as a sign of a deep problems in the European Union. The paper writes: "Some may recall nostalgically the [EU's] good old days -- just a few years ago -- when France and Germany clearly played the well-defined lead, with Jacques Delors firmly in place as the European Commission's president." But things have changed, says Information. Today, it writes, "Tony Blair is the ideologically dominant leader in a [Western] Europe where the catchword is economic liberalism but where there is no centralized form of governance comparable to that of the U.S."

"Something has gone fundamentally wrong," the editorial concludes. "If the euro continue its fall not only in relation to the dollar and the yen but also to the [British] pound -- despite healthy economic growth in most EU countries and despite a series of [recent EU] interest-rate rises -- then Europe has become a free trade zone encapsulated in a political vacuum."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Mergers are as desirable as they are inevitable

Turning to Western Europe's stock markets, Britain's Financial Times gives a positive appraisal of yesterday's announcement of the proposed merger of the London and Frankfurt exchanges. The paper writes: "Squabbles over technology and narrow national interests have for too long delayed the consolidation of Europe's stock markets." Arguing that other European exchanges are sure to follow with similar attempts at mergers. it says: "This is as desirable as it is inevitable. Greater liquidity and transparency in Europe's capital markets will lower the cost of capital and promote a more efficient allocation of corporate resources."

The Financial Times editorial also warns that there is still much work to be done. It says: "The road to reform is beset with political as well as technical difficulties." Even so, the newspaper concludes, "after their false start two years ago, the London and Frankfurt exchanges have set out determinedly in the right direction."

BOSTON GLOBE: There is a distinction between revolutionary justice and the real thing

Editorials in two U.S. newspapers condemn the current trial of 13 Iranian Jews for allegedly spying for Israel. According to The Boston Globe, the trial offers "an all-too familiar lesson about the distinction between revolutionary justice and the real thing." The newspaper says: "In a state based on a genuine rule of law, innocent citizens are not accused of preposterous crimes in order to make a political point. But that is what has happened to the accused Jews in the [south Iranian] city of Shiraz."

WASHINGTON POST: The trial remains an outrageous violation of the defendants' rights

The Washington Post says news that three of the accused have confessed "deepens concerns about whether this trial deserves the name [of a 'trial.'] It also feeds already well-founded suspicions that the supposed legal proceeding is merely a move in the intense maneuvering between clerical hardiners and moderate reformers at yet another crucial point in their struggle for control [of Iran]"

The paper's editorial says the trial could serve to undermine Iran's moderate President Mohammed Khatemi. It argues: "A trial that falls flagrantly short of international human rights norms, as this one does, could scotch the president's efforts to gain credibility for Iran internationally." Not only that, the paper adds, "the charges themselves could stoke --indeed, seem calibrated to stoke-- crude populist anti-Israel sentiment."

The editorial concludes that "whatever politics this kind of action reflects, it remains on its face an outrageous violation of the defendants' rights, worthy of the strongest continued international condemnation."

(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this report.)