Prague, 14 July 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Today's Western press commentary presents a mix of topics, including German tax policies, British and U.S. politics, police brutality and the intractable Cyprus problem.
Haig Simonian, writing in Britain's Financial Times, focuses on what he calls "the biggest test yet of [German Chancellor Gerhard] Schroeder's reforms": whether he will succeed in overcoming strong opposition to his plan to overhaul the country's tax system.
Simonian writes: "Barely 20 months into his chancellorship, Gerhard Schroeder is facing a decisive test of his reform program. Having won acclaim for slashing government spending and cutting Germany's budget deficit, the chancellor is now struggling to make progress with perhaps his most important legislative package; modernization of corporate and personal taxation."
The writer further notes: "The reforms, aimed at improving Germany's international competitiveness, boosting inward investment and creating jobs, are eagerly awaited by the country's largest companies. But Mr. Schroeder cannot deliver without winning an agreement with the opposition."
The problem, Simonian says, is that for the opposition Christian Democratic Union, or CDU, "the tax plans ... are a betrayal of Germany's myriad small and medium-sized companies. According to the CDU, the reform will unfairly disadvantage the middle class to the benefit of big business." But Simonian stresses the importance of passing the deal, which cuts taxes for individuals, but especially large corporations. He says this will encourage an inflow of foreign capital and allow domestic companies to spend more money on investment.
Simonian quotes one senior economist at the financial consulting firm Merrill Lynch in Frankfurt, who says, "Germany's international image will collapse, especially in the business community, if the reform doesn't go through."
Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung also examines the tax proposal today. Heike Gubel, in a commentary, says the tax reform may not be as radical as it appears at first glance -- especially in bringing down individuals' tax burden. She notes: "Plans are to spread it out over seven years and a large part of the relief will not be effective until the next legislative term."
Gubel concedes that "practically every taxpayer will benefit from the reduced tax rates. These are set to fall to a range of 15 to 43 percent from 25.9 to 53 percent when the government took office. But because the relief will come at a snail's pace," she argues, "the example cited by the government to illustrate the magnitude of its deeds look less convincing. Will the 'single salesgirl' really have 30 percent more in her purse after seven years under the [Social Democrats]/Green tax reform? The opposition union parties say no way and trot out their own examples to show that the combined effects of inflation, moderate wage increases, and tax progression will increase the burden on some individuals despite the reform."
Moving over to Britain, The Guardian newspaper carries a commentary focusing on the Labour government's annual report. Editorial writer Polly Toynbee is not impressed. She writes: "What do you do with company annual reports? Straight-to-bin (eds: directly into the garbage) is the normal response. ... Sadly," she continues, "the government's annual report is much the same -- a glib, misleading, filigree of fact and factoid wrapped up in layers of omission. It has all the credibility of, say, a report from the Robert Maxwell group of companies. It exudes the pleasingly airy unreality of an investment prospectus for some particularly shaky proposed new dot-com (eds: Internet startup company). How about in-your-dreams.UKplc.com? What is this utopia?"
Toynbee says the Labour government deserves praise for its achievements so far, but she notes that silly exuberance, especially in politics, serves no purpose. Toynbee contrasts the government's annual report with Prime Minister Tony Blair's press conference on Wednesday -- which she notes struck a sober, honest and much more appropriate tone:
"On Wednesday, the prime minister set a very different tone, which had even enemy newspapers full of unaccustomed praise." She quotes the newspapers leads: "'By any standards Tony Blair had a remarkable story of success to tell yesterday...'(Mail); 'Tony Blair turned the political tide...'(Standard); 'Blair Gets a Grip...' (Sun); 'Tony Blair staged a spirited fightback yesterday...' (Telegraph). What was it that suddenly had these tigers eating out of his hand?" she asks. "Honest dealing, plain speaking and modesty about the good story he did have to tell. Still so far to go, he kept saying, and they liked him all the better for it."
NEW YORK TIMES:
In the United States, the New York Times turns its attention to yesterday's police beating of a crime suspect arrested after a car-chase through the streets of Philadelphia. The event was caught on videotape from a helicopter. The tape showed several police officers dragging the black suspect out of the police squad car he had stolen. They then proceeded to violently kick and beat him before arresting him.
The New York Times editorial says: "The sickening sight of Philadelphia police officers caught on videotape punching, kicking and stomping on a man who had already been shot five times brings to mind the vicious beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers in 1991 (eds: another police brutality case which garnered nationwide attention. The officers' subsequent acquittal led to days of rioting in Los Angeles). Philadelphia's police commissioner, John Timoney, says such comparisons are unfair. There are clear differences in the two cases. But both show officers out of control and using excessive force to settle a score with a suspect."
The paper concludes: "Mayor John Street and Commissioner Timoney have said they will conduct vigorous investigations into the officers' actions. The Justice Department announced yesterday that it would begin a civil rights inquiry to determine whether excessive force had been used. The videotape records a scene that will be hard to justify."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
The International Herald Tribune carries an open letter written by Francois Loncle, chairman of the French parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, on the issue of capital punishment. Loncle addresses himself to U.S. Vice President Al Gore, calling on him to openly oppose the death penalty, as he campaigns for the presidency.
Loncle writes: "Dear Vice President Gore: You recently confessed to the New York Times your concern about the death penalty. You didn't come out against it, but you admitted that a large number of mistakes in application of the death penalty would make you 'uncomfortable,' and you said that capital punishment may need review."
Loncle notes that DNA technology in recent years has exonerated several death row inmates in the United States, and he asks: "How many innocents are there among the approximately 3,600 waiting today on death row in the United States? The United States, " he adds, "is the only Western country that continues to make extensive use of the death penalty. It is one of only six countries -- along with Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen -- that execute mentally ill persons and individuals who were underage at the time they committed the crime."
Loncle recalls: "During the French presidential campaign in 1981, Francois Mitterand declared his opposition to capital punishment. He did not think that would gain him votes. Nevertheless, he won." He concludes: "No doubt French judges have continued to make mistakes every now and then since the death penalty was abolished, but mistakes are no longer fatal."
Staying in France, a Liberation editorial today focuses on the continuing death toll on France's roads. The paper calls for a national debate on the issue of how to make roads safer, especially ahead of the annual August vacation migration. Liberation says "only the state" can lead such a debate. It writes: "The number of people who die or are seriously injured on France's roads each year justifies alarm, and everyone recognizes that it is a public issue." Yet nothing is done to tackle the issue, the paper notes. It asks facetiously: "Should we throw up our arms again and say that it's the fault of globalization?" Liberation notes that "between forcing people to do something, such as making them use public transportation, and 'laissez-faire' is a vast space." It calls on the government to involve France's citizens in trying to come up with reasonable alternatives.
Finally, In Denmark, Information editorializes on the ongoing negotiations in Switzerland between the Greek Cypriot leader Glafcos Clerides and the Turkish Cypriot leader Raoul Denktash. The paper writes: "During the past few years, prospects for a comprehensive settlement between the two opposed communities in Cyprus have improved in accordance with the improved relations between Greece and Turkey, the two 'motherships.'"
But the editorial notes: "The key to the permanent solution may be in Brussels. Pressure on the Cypriot Greeks has increased by putting Cyprus in the first wave of EU candidates and the naming of Turkey as an official one. The Turkish Cypriots would do better if they put their bets on the EU, where the money is, rather than on Turkey. Economic development and cultural recognition is the carrot in the case of Cyprus. The stick is a continued standoff and international isolation."
(Anthony Georgieff contributed to this report.)