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Western Press Review: EU Faces Challenges In Russia And Balkans

Prague, 18 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The relationship between Russia and the West, particularly the European Union, is one of the subjects of focus in Western press commentary today, in view of the conclusion of a one-day summit in Moscow yesterday between Russian and EU leaders. Other topics include international trade agreements, the debate over globalization, and the clashes in Macedonia.


In an analysis in the journal "International Affairs," EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten begins with the question: "What should the European Union and the Russian Federation legitimately expect from each other and how can we develop the strategic partnership that is in our shared interest?"

In answering, he emphasizes that the EU's relationship with Russia should not be seen "in terms of competition for political or ideological influence." He adds: "The EU is not an aggressive entity. [It] is [the] result of a common vision and a common will, as [set] out in international treaties [that] assume an open society, based on democratic checks and balances and on the market economy, [the] rule of law, press freedom [and] respect for human liberties. [It] should not be surprising that we seek to project the same principles and values externally."

Patten identifies four crucial areas that he considers "fundamental for [Russia and the EU's] common futures": "encouraging trade and investment, nuclear safety and the environment, combating [organized] crime, and Russia's international role." The common theme throughout these areas, he writes, "is the need for respect of shared values both at home and abroad."

He stresses that the European Union is keen to work with Russia to deal with all the challenges mentioned in "a spirit of partnership. [The] EU and Russia have agreed on common values and principles and we have set them out in our Partnership and Cooperation Agreement." He concludes: "However different the points we start from, we live together linked by geographical, political, commercial, environmental and cultural factors."


An editorial in "The Economist" looks at the situation in the Balkans and notes that "the eastward expansion of the European Union -- and hence of stability, wealth, and democracy that the EU is supposed to safeguard -- may look like a long, intricate story [that] is nevertheless predestined to have a happy outcome. [People] talk as though the Union's civilizing influence was bound, sooner or later, to embrace the entire continent." The magazine counters that "[In] fact, darker possibilities do exist: the lawlessness and smuggling that now prevail in much of the south Balkan war zone may spread, and infect the EU, rather than contract."

The magazine goes on to look at the situation in Macedonia, where areas outside of Skopje, the magazine writes, are "controlled by well-armed, cocksure, ethnic Albanian fighters, contemptuous of all politicians and enjoying some popular support. It will take more than clever coalition-building to make them go home."

"The Economist" goes on to observe that "few people who know Macedonia see any hope of peace unless certain Albanian aspirations are met: a bigger stake in the formal economy, more access to education at all levels in the Albanian language, and more power for municipalities. [There] is no prospect for peace in Macedonia if its internal arrangements are viewed as a straight contest in which one side's gain is another's loss."

The magazine concludes: "Making sure that change in Macedonia happens peacefully is already the biggest single preoccupation of the EU's foreign-policy chiefs, [who] know that nothing guarantees a happy ending in the Balkans, or even Europe as a whole."


Sanctions imposed against Iraq since the Gulf War 10 years ago have proven to be a "blunt sword," says an editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung." An extensive lifting of trade sanctions as proposed by the UN Security Council will not make a friend of Saddam Hussein or democracy, the paper adds. However, Western powers have come to the conclusion that the sanctions are hitting hardest the people who have never had a choice to express their political will. And Baghdad, in turn, has used them as an instrument of "Western conspiracy against the Arab-Islam world." This, the paper says, has resulted in stabilizing Saddam's rule. It adds that lifting sanctions could serve "as the first step on the road to a new, effective Mideast policy" that would ultimately prevail in the entire region. "Vigilance in the face of radicals is still necessary, but the naive differentiation between 'rogue states' and 'good guys' was and is too simplified."


A commentary in the "International Herald Tribune" addresses the issue of globalization and its homogenizing effect on environments and cultures. Sociology professor James B. Rule writes: "Our global 'information society' is supposed to provide us access to the best products, the fullest information, the broadest viewpoints, and the richest arrays of options. But the burgeoning worldwide circulation of people, wealth, and information also brings to the fore the most dangerous (i.e. most widely adapted, most competitive) microbes, most invasive species, the most standardized institutions, and the most homogenized forms of contact."

Rule notes that the U.S. fast-food franchise McDonalds and similar institutions "are highly successful competitors on a global scale; their very success stems from formulae geared to prevail anywhere and everywhere. Such success, of course, comes at the price of lost diversity." While he acknowledges that "many would readily dismiss these forebodings, by saying [that] progress may have its kinks, but clearly the benefits of global commerce, franchised retailing and perpetual information flow must outweigh the drawbacks," he observes that "in grasping the lure of these bargains, we rarely note the full Faustian price."


In a piece in "Business Week," Frankfurt-based financial reporter David Fairlamb looks at the European Central Bank and its recent decision to cut its key interest rate and loosen credit, in spite of its previous refusal to take such action for fear of inflation. Fairlamb writes that cutting the rate was ultimately a good decision, but "the ECB move looked less like a sign of better economic times than a confirmation that the bank, after three years of existence, is a weak, even capricious steward of Europe's economy."

He adds that "the clumsy way the bank's governing council handled the decision underscores the rigidity of its monetary policymaking and its poor communication skills. [The] ECB seemed to trash its own logic by trimming rates with no sign of abating inflation." Fairlamb cites insiders who claim the rate cut followed a request by U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. The ECB, Fairlamb concludes, "needs a larger sense of what credibility entails. Its real task is to create conditions for a prosperous Europe."


Other commentaries today focus on the ongoing Middle East crisis and the continuing violence in the region. In the "Los Angeles Times" Palestinian columnist and director of Jerusalem's Institute of Modern Media, Daoud Kuttab, calls upon Israel to acknowledge that it is Israel's settlement activity that is at the root of Palestinian violence. He writes: "It is not clear where the present Palestinian resistance will lead, but already prominent Palestinians are saying that if it results in a freeze of settlement activities as a step toward their eventual dismantlement, then the decades-old conflict might have finally turned a corner." However, he adds that "Israelis refuse to accept the international conclusion that settlements are a major cause if Palestinian anger. They prefer to believe the claims of their leaders that Palestinian violence is the result of Palestinian incitement."


In a related commentary in "The Washington Post," columnist Charles Krauthammer addresses the reasons for the ongoing violence, particularly the motivations of the Palestinians. He suggests that Jewish settlements are not the only reason for the continuing violence and writes that "ostensibly, violence broke out because of Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount on 28 September. [Later,] the Palestinians adopted another tack. They're fighting, they now say, because of the expansion of settlements." Krauthammer remarks: "That rationale [is] equally absurd. At Camp David and then at Taba in the dying days of the Clinton presidency, Israel offered the Palestinians their own state and Israeli withdrawal from 95 percent of the disputed territories. The vast majority of settlements would have been uprooted."

Krauthammer concludes that: "Arafat turned that peace offer down. Yet now he pretends he is fighting to get rid of settlements. He is fighting because the Jew-free Palestinian state is hardly his only goal. There will be no peace, he [has] pledged, until the millions of Palestinians living abroad are returned to Israel -- and thus extinguish it as a Jewish state."