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Western Press Review: EU-Austria, Yugoslavia, UN

Prague, 12 September 2000 (RFE/RL/) -- Today's Western press commentary concentrates on Austria, following an announcement yesterday by France -- the European Union's current president -- that EU member nations will shortly end their diplomatic freeze. There are also comments on Yugoslavia's upcoming elections and the United Nations.


Britain's Financial Times, in an editorial entitled "The Lessons From Austria," writes: "Fourteen member states of the European Union dug themselves into a diplomatic hole when they imposed bilateral sanctions on Austria last March. Their intention was to express their joint dismay at the prospect of the far-right Freedom Party joining a coalition government in Vienna. But," the paper goes on, "by taking action even before the Austrian government had been formed, they gave the appearance of interfering in that country's democratic process."

The editorial advises the EU to "retreat gracefully, while making it perfectly clear that any sign of extremism from the Freedom Party in government will invite new action." It adds that for the future, to avoid a repeat of this embarrassing situation, new and clearer procedures will be needed: "What is needed is a clear set of rules spelling out the common values that EU governments are expected to observe, and laying down what action will occur if they transgress. That can be done at the EU summit in Nice [in December]. Then at least the Austrian experience will have proved positive."


France's Liberation daily says the key is to find a face-saving formula for removing sanctions. It writes: "France, which was first in line in adopting sanctions seven months ago, is clearly concerned not to appear to be ceding everything, while Austria is already advertising its regained respectability. As [France's Minister for European Affairs] Pierre Moscovici explained, Paris is discussing with its partners ways of maintaining its vigilance towards the FPO (Austrian Freedom Party) whose future evolution remains uncertain. Belgium and Germany share this preoccupation, but the rest of the Union is pressing to act is quickly as possible."


The Irish Times, meanwhile, writes: "The Austrian complaint that they were the subject of a bullying approach by some of the largest states has sufficient resonance to merit close attention, even from those who have no sympathy with the coalition between the country's conservatives and what the (three wise men's) report accurately characterizes as a 'right-wing, populist party with extreme elements.'"


Spain's ABC newspaper points out that the personal animosity between French President Jacques Chirac and Austria's Joerg Haider makes it especially difficult for France to back down on the issue of sanctions. The paper writes: "Moscovici declared yesterday that the end of the consultations and the possible end of the sanctions 'is a question of days or of hours.' Nevertheless, the aggressive dialogue between Chirac and Haider and the hostility of the left wing parliamentary majority which is against the governmental coalition in Austria make normalization very difficult to accept by Paris, at least psychologically." The Spanish daily adds: "France's obligation is to represent with some objectivity the various national opinions of the EU members. But, being a great European power, France can and will put forward its own opinion that the other influential allies, like Germany, Italy or Spain. will have to take into account."


Jacques Schuster, writing in Germany's Die Welt, supports calls for the quick removal of sanctions against Austria and blames France for taking a leading role in their imposition: "The decision about what to do with Austria will be taken soon, says the message from Paris in an Sibylline and unkind tone. France cannot afford any longer to stick to the foolish sanctions against Vienna after the declaration of the wise men." He adds: "If the Elysee decided to maintain its rigid position, the success of the French presidency would be endangered, the next [EU] summit in Nice would be a total fiasco and the EU would be thrown into a serious crisis. So," he concludes, "France will make a move -- it has to. It was mainly France's will to put Austria in quarantine. The reasons for it were multiple, from an intent to destabilize its own right-wing extremists to Chirac's will to demonstrate the leading role of France in Europe."


Moving to another topic, today's Washington Post focuses on Yugoslavia's upcoming elections in an editorial entitled Serbian Storm Clouds. The paper writes: "Mr. Milosevic trails opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica in the polls, so he is lashing out at prominent oppositionists, apparently in hopes of intimidating ordinary Serbs into accepting the election victory he plans to win, by fraud if necessary. Mr. Milosevic could create an even bigger diversion by acting militarily against Montenegro, which would oblige NATO to go back to war in the Balkans."


Commentator William Pfaff, writing in the International Herald Tribune, focuses on the United Nations. He singles out Secretary-General Kofi Annan for praise. Pfaff writes: "Kofi Annan is proving as remarkable a secretary-general as the United Nations has ever had. He demonstrates a realistic grasp of what the United Nations cannot do and has failed to do, but also of what it might do and has never before thought of doing. His Millennium Summit seems to have been a success. The guests all came, and the affair served, as he intended, to re-launch a United Nations that has taken a battering since the 1960s -- the last time it tried to do something on its own, intervening in the Congo under Dag Hammarskjold. Mr. Annan today has recovered for the organization a margin of freedom of action that it has not possessed since Hammarskjold's death in 1961."


Finally, on the topic of the UN, The Wall Street Journal Europe takes a different tack. Columnist George Melloan questions the worth of last week's Millennium Summit and global action, especially international sanctions, in general. He writes: "Economic sanctions are an all-too popular weapon in the West, but such punishments usually backfire. Instead of encouraging local political forces to rise up against the government, they strengthen the hands of tyrants and demagogues, who can then raise the cry that 'the whole world is against us.' A wordy communique with many platitudes was drafted at the close of the UN session last week. But words don't solve problems."