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Western Press Review: U.S. Election And The Climate Conference

Prague, 27 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. presidential election and the inconclusive global climate conference in The Hague dominate the editorial pages of the Western press today.


The New York Times, reacting to yesterday's certification of Florida's ballots and the subsequent announcement by George W. Bush that he is preparing to assume the presidency, writes in an editorial: "By hailing the certification of Florida's ballots as the last word on the presidential election and naming a transition director and chief of staff, Governor George W. Bush reached boldly for the mantle of president-elect. Unfortunately, he is also trying to leapfrog the nation past the important pending legal challenges to that state's incompletely counted vote."

The paper counsels a little more patience, for the good of the nation: "In the light of the events since November 7, the last word ought to be delivered by the courts that will hear Vice President Al Gore's contest of the results, and, more important, by a United States Supreme Court that is hearing arguments about the election at Mr. Bush's request. Both the Florida courts and the United States Supreme Court can finish their work in a little over a week. They can give Americans of both parties a higher level of confidence in the ballot count. That, in turn, would allow either Mr. Bush or Mr. Gore to take office on a sounder basis. Both candidates should be looking to the broader issues of legitimacy instead of grasping for short-term advantage."


The French daily Liberation reminds its readers today that the drama could still continue for weeks. In a commentary entitled "No Resolution Until December," Fabrice Rousselot writes from the United States: "Twenty days after Americans voted without electing a president, all the historians agree: the 2000 election is the craziest one that the country has ever known."

"There are some who evoke the 'millennium bug,'" Rousselot continues. "The most incredible thing perhaps, is that this political-judicial imbroglio could keep America on the edge of its seat still longer. [Already,] everyone has their eyes turned toward the hearing of the federal Supreme Court, which is due to open on Friday in Washington. If the highest court in the land deems that the manual recounts do not need to be included in the Florida results, it will be difficult for Gore to go further in his challenges. But if the judges legitimize manual recounts, the Democrats will be able to pursue their court actions and put in doubt the decision of Miami's Dade county to halt its hand recount. All this," he adds, "without even considering the lawsuits filed by [Bush] in several Florida counties, in order to force them to count absentee ballots, which were originally rejected."


The Washington Post, in an editorial entitled "On To The Next Deadline," notes that Bush, ironically, may be to blame for the lack of a resolution at this point. The paper writes: "If George W. Bush had not reset the clock with his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, many Americans this morning might have been expecting Al Gore to concede the election. We might have been among them."

The editorial goes on: "After all, Vice President Gore was, as the Republicans have repeated more times than most of us care to recall, behind after the initial Florida count and again after a statewide recount. His campaign then requested manual recounts in four Democratic-majority counties [and] three agreed to proceed. Those manual recounts have left Mr. Gore still behind in Florida and so also in the race for the presidency. [But] the Supreme Court has agreed to hear Mr. Bush's appeal next Friday, and there is little point in demanding finality in the meantime."

Until then, the paper cautions both sides to stop fanning the passions of their supporters: "Mr. Gore appears sure that he won the presidency, and Mr. Bush last night laid claim to it. For the sake of the legitimacy and effectiveness of whoever moves into the White House, the candidates ought instead to be telling their supporters that, almost three weeks after the election, the outcome is still uncertain."


Turning to the failed global climate conference in The Hague, which foundered over the weekend amid recriminations between the European Union and the United States, Britain's Financial Times writes:

"Abusing the U.S. is not the best way to solve the problems of global warming. The international conference at The Hague on climate change started badly when Jacques Chirac, France's president, remarked that 'each American emits three times more greenhouse gases than a Frenchman.' It ended disastrously at the weekend, when a group of European countries refused to accept a [U.S.-backed] compromise. The final offer from the U.S., Japan and Canada may have been far from ideal. But," the paper says, "it included important concessions. The alternative of ending without any agreement is far worse."

The editorial adds: "Green lobbyists and some excessively green ministers must learn to recognize that the U.S. can only proceed at the pace of public opinion. That is the price of democracy -- and U.S. voters are not alone in opposing energy tax rises." The Financial Times advises pragmatism, concluding: "When the conference resumes in Bonn next year, European countries must abandon political posturing and concentrate on the art of the possible. They must recognize that if the scientific consensus is right, the challenge over the next 50 years or more will be truly awesome. The immediate task must be to consolidate an agreement and to forge a wide democratic consensus behind it."


The Irish Times, in an editorial entitled "Failure at The Hague," also concedes that EU intransigence may have led to the talks' ending without agreement. But the paper notes the Europe stood up for an important point of principle and thus should not be blamed.

The editorial says: "The great American writer, Mark Twain, once wryly observed that everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it. As reported a week ago today, that pithy phrase was doing the rounds at the United Nations climate change summit in The Hague, long before its dramatic collapse on Saturday afternoon. It is an apt metaphor for this depressing outcome of what Greenpeace International called the biggest environmental problem facing the world today."

The paper goes on: "It must be borne in mind that the ultimate objective of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, adopted at the Earth Summit in 1992, is the stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous [human-induced] interference with the climate system. As weather-related natural disasters become much more frequent and ferocious -- just as global warming experts were predicting more than a decade ago -- it has become increasingly clear that the overall reduction of 5.2 percent, agreed under the Kyoto Protocol in December 1997, will go nowhere near achieving this goal. But it would," the editorial adds, "at least represent a small step in the right direction."

The paper also says: "The EU's insistence at The Hague meeting on the vital need to protect Kyoto's environmental integrity -- in the face of a seemingly endless search by the United States and others for loopholes to evade their own commitments to cut emissions -- is what led to the summit's collapse. Yet the EU, which was genuinely anxious to make progress, can hardly be blamed for sticking to its principles. As Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the UN Environment Program, said afterwards: 'It is better to suspend the talks and resume later to ensure that we find the right path forward rather than take a hasty step that moves us in the wrong direction.'"


Spain's El Pais daily notes that whatever the cause of the debacle, planet earth is the loser: "Basically," the paper writes in its editorial, "the discrepancies between the U.S. and the EU concerning the reduction of greenhouse gas concentrations were the cause for the failure of the UN summit on climate change. [We] are all losers in this certified failure in The Hague. The problem of climate change is as real as it is threatening and the confrontation with it is a fundamental responsibility of the planetary powers. In The Hague, again, a conflict of interests has been an obstacle for us to be able to challenge the circumstances."


Finally, writing in France's provincial Journal Sud-Ouest, Pierre Verdet calls the conference in The Hague a "worrisome failure." In a commentary, he puts the blame squarely on the United States, writing: "It was evident from the start that due to the tragi-comic episode of the American elections, no accord would be reached at The Hague. The Americans, not satisfied with being the greatest polluters of the planet and having greatly increased their greenhouse gas emissions since (the previous climate change summit in) Kyoto, could not let a new accord be signed without knowing whether Al Gore or George W. Bush would be their new president."

Verdet concludes: "All the rest is just a horse-trading game dominated by a single obsession among representatives of the industrialized states: not to slow economic development and not to put into question our current means of transportation."

(RFE/RL's Aurora Gallego contributed to this report.)