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Western Press Review: Future of Europe, Russia-EU, Euro

Prague, 7 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Today's RFE/RL press review begins with commentators debating the future of Europe and the EU single currency. Other analyses look at Europe's relations with the new Russia of President Vladimir Putin, Britain's upcoming general election, the viability of national missile defense, and other topics.


An editorial in "The New York Times" looks at the role that Franco-German cooperation has played in the development of the European Union. The paper calls European integration "one of the great successes of the last half-century, binding historically hostile nations in an ever-closer economic union committed to a common set of democratic values." It adds that "a concerted approach to this integration by France and Germany was crucial to its success."

However, the paper notes that the two nations' differing visions for the future of Europe -- with France leaning toward an intergovernmental "federation of nation-states" and Germany preferring the development of a supra-national European federation -- may cause problems. "The differences between Germany and France are likely to become more pronounced as the constitutional debate intensifies," the paper writes, adding: "Ensuring that the differences do not lead to paralyzing gridlock will be a major challenge for the European Union in coming years."


A commentary in "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" by columnist Juergen Jeske looks at the lack of enthusiasm and distrust surrounding the European single currency, the euro. Jeske says that far more attention is paid to the relatively poor exchange rate of the euro to the U.S. dollar than to the positive aspects of the currency.

He writes: "It is remarkable that the introduction of the euro in 1999 was accomplished without the political and economic turmoil pessimists had predicted. [In] European financial policy, there has on the whole never been so much effort at consolidation as since the introduction of the euro. [It] is well on its way to becoming the second-most important international reserve currency."

Jeske notes that the euro must first gain the trust of the markets with regard to its external value, as well as the trust of Europeans. He adds that this trust must be created politically. He writes: "The politics of the European Union must convince people and markets that there is more to the euro than a common currency. Only then will people have a more positive association with the euro, only then can it become a true symbol for a new European order."


A piece by international relations analyst Angelo Codevilla in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" looks at Europe's relations with Russia. Codevilla notes that in spite of ongoing troubles in Russia -- the atrocities committed in Chechnya, press-freedom disputes over Russia's private NTV station, and Russia's arms sales to Iran -- European policy towards Russia has remained stable, even conciliatory. "Nowadays," he writes, "one is more likely to hear EU leaders denouncing the U.S. for its environmental policies, its alleged human rights abuses and its provocative foreign policy than one is to hear protest about, say, Russian bullying of the former Soviet republics."

He speculates that there are various reasons for this, among them Europe's investment in, and subsequent dependence on, Russia's oil and energy industry. He also suggests that what he calls Europe's "dalliance" with Russia might offer an opportunity for Europe to "show its independence from, and possibly gain diplomatic leverage against, the U.S." He says: "Europe thinks it can afford an indulgent policy toward Russia -- this time, gratifyingly, as senior partner. But, he adds, "this is a dangerous game. However weak Russia may be economically, it is still able to yield vast influence through its geographic reach, its military know-how, and [its] lack of scruple in the conduct of foreign policy." He writes: "Europe had better watch out."


A commentary by U.S. correspondent Sylvie Kauffmann in the French daily "Le Monde" looks at the recent shift of the U.S. Senate majority to the Democratic Party and what this means for the future of the controversial missile defense initiative. She writes: "The foreign policy of the Bush administration is going to find itself [the first] of the turnovers provoked by the change in the majority. [And] national missile defense, on which the Bush administration bet so early and so strongly, [is] going to be affected first."

She notes that the Democrats are much less likely to push for a missile defense, because they question its viability with current technology and are also "more attached to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and to the stability that it established." While Kauffmann notes that several democratic senators also want to widen the debate on missile defense, she says that the hopes of President George W. Bush to expand such a system before the presidential election of 2004 have been seriously compromised.


An editorial in the "Financial Times" looks at today's general election in Britain and considers -- with an incumbent victory largely expected -- what lasting results this election will have. Today's campaigns are about avoiding risk, the paper says, noting that this is largely the fault of the media.

It writes: "With [the media's] focus on the gaffes rather than the arguments, and its tendency to treat any internal debate within parties as a big split, [no] wonder the message from the minders is to play it safe. No wonder that the press conferences are now sterile affairs in which politicians and journalists simply go through the motions." The most memorable image of the campaign, it adds, is of that "unedifying moment" when Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott punched a protester who had hurled an egg at him.

This election, the paper goes on to say, has managed to serve an important function. It writes: "party leaders have been subjected to a grueling series of cross-examinations, not just from the broadcasters but -- more important -- from the public, by way of phone-ins, television audience debates, and public confrontations. The age of deference is past," the paper adds. It concludes: "The British public may not have learned much that is new about their political leaders in the past few weeks. But the politicians have had to face up to some awkward realities."


The ongoing fighting between Macedonian government troops and ethnic Albanian rebels continues to be a subject of concern in the press. Now it seems all-out war is imminent. An editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" comments on the situation, saying: "It's not difficult to recognize the pattern. Macedonian Prime Minister [Ljubco] Georgievski, when visited by EU official [Javier] Solana, displays understanding. He says, yes, we will 'very likely' go along with the demands of Albanians living in Macedonia. But as soon as the visitor leaves, the familiar local tones can be heard: No, there will be no second official language. And the deaths of six Macedonian soldiers near Tetovo seem to confirm Georgievski's unrelenting attitude." He gives everyone to understand that he is not really interested in the problems of the ethnic Albanian minority. Moreover, there does not seem to be a social or political force in Macedonia prepared to deal with the Albanians. In this situation, the paper writes, "sporadic visits" by Solana cannot advance a solution.


In the "Frankfurter Rundschau," commentator Joachim Wille describes the Russian bill to import the world's nuclear waste -- which yesterday passed its third reading in Russia's lower house of parliament -- as having created the planet's first "atomic toilet." Wille writes: "It stinks, notably politically," but adds that if properly treated, the plan will have financial benefits.

The commentator goes on to say that although the bill passed easily through the Duma, 80 percent of Russians oppose such a deal and public debate surrounding the issue has been, by Russian standards, intense. Wille, citing officials' argument that the damage has been done in the already-contaminated Urals, says Russia must be prevented from becoming the world's nuclear rubbish dump. The Russian government -- with its eyes on the eventual profits -- is incapable of being the one to say no, Wille says. He adds that the world can only hope a watchful public in potential export countries -- in West Europe, America, and Asia -- will take up the campaign. "Business with Moscow atomic [waste] dealers must be an absolute taboo," he adds.