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Western Press Review: Euro Falls, France Strikes

Prague, 8 September 2000 (RFE/RL/) -- The increasing weakness of the European Union's common currency, the euro, and -- to a lesser extent -- the French truckers' blockade of oil refineries make up much of the editorial commentary in west European dailies today. Several papers take the German chancellor to task for his role in the euro's continued dive.

FINANCIAL TIMES: The Financial Times, in an editorial entitled "Careless Talk," notes: "This week, Gerhard Schroeder, Germany's chancellor, weighed in with a speech welcoming the economic benefits of a weak currency. Despite later attempts to backtrack on his comments, they have helped to drive the euro to new lows against the dollar. It would be unrealistic to expect politicians within the [11-nation] euro-zone to stay quiet about the exchange rate," the paper continues. " But if they must speak up, they should think far more carefully about the impact of their words on the perception of the euro-zone."

The editorial goes on: "To call the weakness of the euro 'a cause for satisfaction, not concern,' as Mr. Schroeder did on Monday, carries very negative implications. The statement is disappointing, because it indicates again that, more than a year-and-a-half after the launch of the single currency, politicians in the euro-zone countries have still not found a way to talk about the weakness of the euro sensibly without confusing the financial markets." "Even more important, though," the editorial adds, "is the deeper meaning which the markets may read into Mr. Schroeder's words. The statement indicates that the chancellor is happy to let the German economy rely on export growth alone. The implication is that he does not consider structural reform a high priority. Given the sensitivity of investors to any suggestion that European reform may be stalling, this is very dangerous territory. It can only intensify the chronic weakness of the euro."

The Financial Times concludes: "To welcome a weak exchange rate as a painless way to maintain economic growth is bound to send out the worst possible signal about a government's commitment to reform."


An editorial in the Madrid daily El Pais also criticizes the German chancellor: "In an attempt to calm down his electorate," it says, "Schroeder has pushed the European currency under a cold shower. But it would be a mistake to consider that the euro's has been caused by a simple sentence." The paper cites as a major source for the misfortunes of the euro "the incapacity of EU economies to sustain a progressive economic growth through major improvements of productivity." It says "the euro's fall also shows the political weakness of the European Union, which does not speak with a single voice that would made it possible to manage a common currency." El Pais concludes "The only sign of hope is that EU institutions as well its governments are aware of the necessity to urgently consider deep structural reforms to eliminate this kind of obstacles."


In France, the business daily La Tribune comments: "The current energy crisis means a rude awakening for Europe. [Our] U.S. allies appear to be immune to it, thanks to their own resources and the soaring dollar. The energy question certainly does not leave the Americans cold, as shown by efforts right up to the highest levels of government to increase pressure on the-oil producing countries. But in the U.S. there is no echo of the great hue and cry to be heard in Europe." La Tribune concludes: "Twenty years after the last oil shock, Europe remains notably susceptible to price changes despite reduced dependence and is above all defenseless when it comes to giving an answer."


In a similar vein, a commentary in Germany's Die Welt by Andreas Middle calls for "a clear cut concept of Europe, a clear definition of what Europe can do and what it cannot achieve, to serve as buttresses for the so far shaky common EU currency."


A commentary in the Dutch daily Volkskrant warns: "The price of oil has not been so high for 10 years, and the chance of a rapid reversal of prices is not great. Even if OPEC [Organization for Petroleum-Exporting Countries] ministers on Sunday agree to raise output, the effect will only be felt later." Volkskrant concludes, "the pressure for frugal consumption of energy means reduced mobility, and higher gasoline prices."


In Denmark, the daily Berlingske Tidende editorializes today: "When the 11 OPEC countries meet in Vienna Sunday to discuss their oil-producing strategies, they will be put under tremendous pressure to increase the volume of oil produced and thus reduce its price. The OPEC states themselves have an interest in keeping the oil prices down," the editorial goes on. " Expensive oil fosters inflation. As the OPEC countries keep most of their assets in the industrialized world, they should realize that high prices, leading to lower consumption, would boomerang against themselves."


In Italy, the Milan daily Corriere della Sera comments: "Europe is shocked by the strength of the dollar. The rise in the price of oil threatens to strangle economic recovery. The more the storm spreads through the markets, the more extreme are the analyses." It adds: "Europe should ask itself whether what has been happening for the last few months is really a solid boom. Or is it rather a cyclical recovery based merely on high exports made possible by the extreme weakness of the euro?"


The left-of-center Rome daily la Repubblica writes: "Europe watches in dismay as the euro continues to dive and the price of diesel fuel rises without restraint. The mixture of shock and anger in countries like France is spilling over into the streets and squares. In fact, the common currency during the past 20 months has lost about 30 percent of its value against the dollar, while the price of a barrel of oil as risen by 200 percent." La Repubblica concludes that the euro "is slowly becoming a hostage of the economic system and above all of the most affected sectors, chiefly transportation."


The Spanish daily ABC comments: "The fall of the Euro and the rise of fuel prices are two elements that threaten the European economy. Both have the same root: the political weakness of the European Union, which is in turn a consequence of its lack of unity and internal cohesion." The paper concludes: "There is no economic reason for the fall of the European currency, which has now reached its historically lowest rate against the dollar. The reasons are political and have a historical dimension. [Europe] suffers from a lack of structure that demonstrates lack of self-confidence."


The Madrid daily El Mundo writes: "Gerhard Schroeder stressed in New York that Germany is interested in a strong euro. His was a late and less than convincing attempt to set straight his earlier remarks in which he caused so much damage by speaking in favor of a weak euro. Schroeder does not even seem to be aware that Germany shares the currency with numerous other countries." El Mundo continues: "France's Prime Minister Lionel Jospin did even not think of consulting with the EU over his plans to stem the wave of [truckers] protests, even though this is clearly a European problem. Schroeder and Jospin's actions prove that Europe lacks coordination and especially leadership." The paper cask in conclusion: "Who can be surprised by the euro's weakness?"


A commentary by Oliver Schumacher in the Munich daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung is more optimistic about the EU's economic future. He writes: "In many places in the world today. mistrust is growing over the old continent's project of the century [that is, the euro]. Is this justifiable?" he asks. "No," Schumacher says, since the EU "is on the verge of a strong upswing." He concludes: "EU core countries like Germany and France are setting [critical] reforms in motion -- albeit," he allows, "too slowly."


In a comment on France's truckers' strike, the French daily Liberation notes: "What cements the barricades is a form of brotherhood among those who are self-supporting. They were forgotten in the [ruling] left's great social reforms, bristle at the discussion on environmental protection and want to pay less taxes. Thus, a part of France finds itself in the blockade movement." But Liberation concludes: "This is an ultra-small minority in society, 90 percent of whom are wage-earners."

(RFE/RL's Aurora Gallego and Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen contributed to this report.)