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Western Press Review: EU, France, Mideast

By Katya Chhor

Prague, 4 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Today and over the weekend, commentary in the Western press addressed a variety of topics, with particular attention on the situation in the Middle East following last Friday's bombing outside a nightclub in Tel Aviv. Other analyses focused on charting a new course for Europe, Chinese politics 12 years after the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, and corruption in the French government in the wake of the so-called "Elf affair."


"The Washington Post" columnist David Ignatius looks at the recent conviction of former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas, and the ongoing investigations into members of France's political elite, for keeping a slush fund between 1981 and 1995 under the guise of the state-owned Elf Aquitaine oil company. Ignatius writes: "Elf was an example of a web of foreign payoffs and kickbacks to Paris that has prevailed for decades among the country's big state-owned companies." He goes on to say that the so-called Elf affair may be the "biggest European scandal in a generation," and compares the recent attempts to root out corruption to "trying to clean out a messy stable with just a dustpan and brush."

The latest anticorruption efforts have focused on former Interior Minister Charles Pasqua, who has attempted to claim immunity from prosecution as a member of the European Parliament. Ignatius notes that Judge Eva Joly, the magistrate who began the Elf investigation, is considering appealing to the European Parliament to lift his immunity. He writes: "A parliamentary debate over Mr. Pasqua would transform the magistrate's lonely investigation into an international political issue. That might embarrass France in the short run, but it could bring the country lasting benefits."


In Britain's "The Sunday Times," political analyst Larry Siedentop looks at the recent proposals of models for the future structure of the European Union, including suggestions for individual national models to form the basis for the Union as a whole. Between proposals for the centralized control of the French model and the German diversification of power into "spheres of authority" -- among others -- he writes:

"Europeans find themselves poised uneasily between a confederation and a federation. In certain policy spheres there is what resembles a central government in Brussels. Yet democratic civic cultures, imperfect as they may be, remain tied to existing nation-states."

Siedentop suggests that Europe should take a closer look at American federalism to resolve what he calls "the central issue facing Europe today" -- the issue of self-government -- and use this system to help create "free institutions on a continental scale." He writes: "If Europe fails to engage seriously with the example of American federalism, what Jospin calls 'a federation of nation-states' could mean simply the growth of bureaucratic power at the expense of existing civic cultures."


Other commentary looks at China on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, as well as the country's relations with the United States. In a commentary published in the "International Herald Tribune," Jonathan Mirsky, the recently retired East Asia editor for Britain's "The Times" -- who sent dispatches from Tiananmen during the demonstrations -- writes that 12 years later, the official verdict remains that this was a "counter-revolutionary uprising." Chinese officials, he adds, continue to insist that "the Tiananmen crackdown preserved the country from breaking up."

Citing meetings in Beijing earlier this year ordering Politburo members and senior national officials to re-affirm the official verdict, Mirsky writes that China's leaders still feel the event's infamy "acutely," adding: "What remains terrifying about Tiananmen for China's leaders is that the uprisings in hundreds of cities showed party officials how unpopular they were, despite economic reforms that have improved the standard of living."


In a second commentary in the "International Herald Tribune," John Lewis, an analyst with the Stanford Center for International Security and Cooperation, writes that the Bush administration "is in danger of replacing a workable China policy with an unstable and unworkable one."

He continues: "Partly as an unintended consequence, but mostly by design, the administration's actions have appeared to cast Beijing as America's enemy," and adds that "this strategic policy is based on a serious internal contradiction. One premise maintains that China is a rising power whose interests and objectives conflict with America's and whose ambitions require immediate and long-term containment. Yet the policy also presumes that China is unable to meet a forceful American challenge."

Lewis adds: "The first premise exaggerates the political weight of the hard-liners. The second miscalculates the range of Beijing's options and the importance of national pride. Both premises ignore the positive and impressive changes in China in the past two decades."

Lewis concludes that "China is already engaged in an accelerating process of change, and only a renewed Cold War could threaten that progress." Realists in China, he adds, "would work with an American government that pursued a China policy based on an informed understanding of the historic transformations now under way."


A "Financial Times" commentary by staff writers Roula Khalaf and Ralph Atkins looks at the effects of Friday's suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv nightclub. Following the bombing, they write, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "was quick to understand that the conflict has reached a new, more dangerous phase. The need to fend off an Israeli retaliation and severe pressure from the U.S. led him to condemn the attack, and to declare a cease-fire for the first time since the eruption of the uprising."

They write that at the time of this latest bomb attack, diplomatic attempts to implement the Mitchell report were deadlocked, saying, "Two weeks ago, Mr. Sharon accepted the cease-fire call and announced a policy of restraint. But Israel resisted the call for a total freeze on the expansion of Jewish settlements on occupied land, which the report warned was needed if a cease-fire was to last. Mr. Arafat, meanwhile, insisted in recent weeks that a cease-fire could only be declared when a timetable was agreed for all aspects of the report."

They add that now that Arafat has "made the cease-fire declaration without political guarantees, and the world is asking both sides to show restraint, the Mitchell report has a chance of success. But the hatred and mistrust that are entrenched on both sides make the search for an end to the bloodshed a formidable task." They quote an official involved in the Mitchell committee as saying: "The minimum level of trust needed between the leaders is simply not there."


An editorial in Britain's "The Times" also looks at the Tel Aviv bombing and says: "Suicide bombings are a frequent and integral part of the increasingly deadly arsenal deployed by organizations that operate openly in the areas governed by the Palestinian Authority. Israel has to react. How deadly its reaction will be depends on what Mr. Arafat does in the next few hours -- what he does, not merely what he indicates he is ready to do."

While the editorial notes that Arafat does not give orders to the more radical factions of Palestinian politics, it writes that "he knows who they are; and they are seen, by Palestinians and Israelis alike, to be doing his work." The paper adds that Arafat "has made his goal clear; it is to drag Israel towards all-out war and thus force the outside world to intervene -- preferably by an international 'protective' occupation of the West Bank and Gaza -- to douse the flames." "The Times" suggests that if Arafat has, in fact, changed his mind and declared a cease-fire, "he could have proved it [by] arresting the intifada leaders who, with contempt for orders to the Palestinian security forces to give 'urgent and immediate effect' to the cease-fire, announced that they would go on fighting."