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Western Press Review: EU, NATO Expansion, Balkans, Mideast, Ukraine

Prague, 22 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the Western press today covers a wide range of subjects. They include the European Union's common currency -- the euro -- and its military capabilities, prospects for future NATO expansion, and the struggle between ethnic Albanian fighters and security forces in Macedonia. There are also comments on the worsening situation in the Middle East, in light of the official release of a report by a commission led by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, and on the political situation in Ukraine.


In a commentary on the euro in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Juergen Jeske remarks that, seven months before the introduction of euro bills and coins in 12 EU member-states, there is a trend toward what he calls "panic buying" among many Germans. He says the trend is particularly strong among older Germans who see the coming of the euro as "reminiscent [of Germany's] postwar currency reform." This fear of the common currency, Jeske says, is the result of both a lingering distrust of the new currency and a fear of the fiscal uncertainty that will accompany the upcoming currency conversion.

In addition, Jeske writes, Germans are "frightened that prices will increase once the new currency is introduced. So," he continues, "they flee into what they believe to be fixed assets, spending 'the good old money' on things they might need one day anyway." Jeske concludes that the panic-buying trend "shows that much persuasive advertising will be necessary before the euro enjoys the level of trust given the old deutsche mark."


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" looks at the trend towards demilitarization in many West European countries and its implications for the global balance of power. The paper writes that in the Swedish navy, in a policy shift that is "part of a $75 million cost-cutting measure, naval officers will work until no later than five in the afternoon -- no provision is made for overtime pay. Ditto for the army and air force. [Put] simply, the Swedish military is being restructured out of existence."

The paper argues that weakening the military constitutes a trend among several Western nations. "Britain's Royal Navy can only put to sea two of its 11 nuclear-powered attack submarines. The rest are laid up in repairs. [New] Zealand has flat-out decided to abandon its air force. [And] by the German defense minister's own account, his military is currently unfit to serve in NATO."

The editorial notes that "it's a good thing when the world situation allows serious countries to lay down their arms without immediate adverse consequences." But, it says, this "does not happen in a vacuum." It is, the paper continues, "the result of there being a 'hyperpower' [that is, the United States] that has assumed the burden of the civilized world's defense without extracting a price." The paper concludes: "As European leaders of leftist bent crow about the need for a multipolar world, they'd do well to take note of this obvious, if too-little noted, fact."


In a commentary carried by the "Financial Times," Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi emphasizes the equal importance of Europe's economic and political integration and its trans-Atlantic relationship with the United States. "These two principal factors," he writes, "have shaped European history." NATO enlargement, he adds, must "be carried out as thoroughly and quickly as possible."

The exclusion of certain countries, Matonyi goes on to say, "would run the risk of creating a zone in Europe stigmatized by less security, less democracy, and less economic freedom." Simultaneously, Europe must seek "leadership and mutual trust [on] both sides of the Atlantic to help ensure a safe future for Europeans for decades to come."

An effective European security policy, he adds, "will merely complement NATO's collective defense commitment [and] mark Europe's willingness to assume an enhanced role and to share burdens with the U.S. in European conflict management." [Where] the U.S. does not have a direct concern," he says, "is where a European force can make a real difference."


"The Washington Post" carries a commentary by writer Nicholas Gage, who has written extensively on the Balkans. He looks at the current conflict between ethnic Albanian fighters and Macedonian security forces, writing: "The most powerful threat to the region is Albanian nationalism. [While] Albania itself is too weak militarily to promote a regional drive for a Greater Albania, there are enough arms and fervent nationalists [to] fuel a conflict in the area that could be even more devastating than any we have seen so far."

The way to avoid this, Gage says, is for the West to learn from its mistakes and develop what he describes as "a comprehensive strategy for dealing with the ethnic tensions in the region. [The] main cause of conflict," he writes, "is the treatment of minorities." He suggests that the West abandon what he calls its previous "piecemeal" approach to the issue and hold a conference on Balkan problems that is "based on shared rights and on the inviolability of borders." This, he says, "is the best way to end the conflict in Macedonia and the threat of a wider war in the region."


Another subject addressed by commentators today is the situation in Ukraine and that nation's relationship with the rest of Europe. In a joint comment published by the "International Herald Tribune," Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson and European Commission President Romano Prodi write: "Ukraine is a key factor in the development and maintenance of stability in the whole of Europe." They emphasize the need for Ukraine to "assiduously pursue a path of democracy, rule of law, and economic reform."

The writers continue: "The speed with which we can intensify cooperation [between Ukraine and the EU] is dictated by the pace of [such] reform." They say that "continued economic and social reform, efforts to counter organized crime and corruption, and promotion of a free, independent media should therefore be key concerns for elected representatives and the people as a whole." Such policies, they add, "can yield a fairly rapid return."

They also note that "closer cooperation with the EU is in no way an obstacle to close, fruitful relations between Ukraine and Russia. Extensive cooperation on a basis of equality between these two countries is in everyone's interest."


In a commentary in the French daily "Liberation," Helene Despic-Popovic looks at the situation of press freedom in Ukraine, recently highlighted by the murder of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Writing from Kyiv, she quotes journalist Yulia Mostova of "Zverkalo Nedeli" -- a weekly critical of the government -- who said: "Ever since [the murder], [journalists] feel that they have a role to play and some have also found the strength to oppose their editorial superiors in order to provide more objective information."

Despic-Popovic notes that Ukrainian editors are attempting to walk a fine line between giving voice to the opposition while not angering the president. She adds: "Too many media owners are businessmen who, without favoring the president, restrain themselves from going too far in order not to lose their property and their freedom." She writes: "In Ukraine, the authorities do not hesitate to put pressure on the press, including the foreign press. Visits from the tax authorities, [or those] looking into [alleged] violations of national security, [can] interfere at any moment." But she adds that, after putting up with years of harassment, a movement for greater freedom is taking shape among the country's journalists.


The ongoing crisis in the Middle East is described by Martin Winter in the "Frankfurter Rundschau" in these terms: "A fragile flower of peace in the Middle East is faced with the threat of being buried under the sacrifices of suicide assassinations and the rubble of air raids. Never since the (1993) Oslo peace accords has war between the Israelis and Palestinians been so imminent. And never has the world stood by so helplessly."

In a commentary, Winter reviews the causes of the renewed conflict personified, he says, by the aging and adamant Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat, whose mutual distrust prevents a return to the negotiation table.

Winter recalls the appeals for Mideast peace by the UN, EU, Egypt, and Jordan -- all so far in vain. According to the commentator, a slight hope for ending the violence lies in the Mitchell Plan, which he describes as the "first, tentative step in the right direction. Alone," he say, "no one is sufficiently strong to set the peace talks in motion once more. Washington, Brussels, Cairo, and Amman must create a political alliance for the Middle East. They must not play off one against the other. The plan is no guarantee for peace, yet it could alter the political backdrop."

Winter concludes: "Even the strongest alliance for peace in the Middle East must be aware that it cannot take the responsibility out of the hands of the Israelis and Palestinians. It can only help the two see reason."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this press review)