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Western Press Review: EU Reform, Corporate Influence, Missile Defense

Prague, 20 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Some commentators in today's Western press look at policy reform and corporate influence in the European Union. Others assess the potentially explosive situation in Macedonia, the viability of missile defense policies, and Sunday's (17 June) election in Bulgaria, which brought the party of the country's former monarch to power. Still others examine the possible acquisition of Honeywell by General Electric, and the anti-trust and jurisdictional issues this raises for the United States and the EU.


An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says that policy reform in the European Union is often a very slow, painstaking process that must pass through numerous bureaucratic levels for approval. The paper writes: "[This] is precisely where the danger lies. The politicians who approve measures scheduled to take effect five or 10 years [later] know full well that, political half-lives being what they are, it will fall to others to implement or take the blame for their noble gestures."

The editorial cites Ireland's decision to support what it describes as a "long-awaited [EU] directive governing employers' obligations to 'consult' workers on matters of importance to them, [including] layoffs." After initially opposing it, Ireland accepted the directive after two concessions had been granted, one of which extended the phase-in period for the new policy from three to seven years. "But if the idea is bad in 2004, why is it any better in 2008?" the paper asks, noting, "Well, by then, presumably, it will be someone else's problem."


In a commentary for "The Guardian," George Monbiot considers some of the reasons behind resistance to EU expansion. He writes that "the great European dream, of mutual benefit and peaceful coexistence, has been subverted." Corporations exert a disproportionate influence on EU policies and processes, he says, and cites the European Round Table, or ERT, as being largely responsible for this.

Monbiot writes: "[The ERT] is no ordinary lobby group. It has little need to call on governments, for governments call on the round table. For the past 17 years it has been the principle architect of European integration and expansion. [Its] former secretary-general boasted about phoning European leaders whenever he wanted policy changes."

Today, the commentator goes on, the lobby group is seeking what it calls "a minimal regulatory system with the maximum of flexibility." Monbiot writes: "Having harmonized European regulations so that the same big companies can sell the same goods and services everywhere, its new task is to diminish those common rules." Concessions to large businesses, Monbiot adds, have been made "accompanied by the effective abandonment of future social democratic reforms. [The] EU's proposed 'fundamental charter on human rights' appears to have been scuppered."

The writer quotes British Prime Minister Tony Blair as saying, on the riots in Goteborg, that protesters "must not and will not disrupt the proper workings of democratic organizations." Monbiot concludes: "That role has [already] been reserved for corporations."


An editorial in "The New York Times" says that while U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke "hopefully" on 16 June about coming to an agreement on missile defense, "on Monday (18 June) Mr. Putin indicated what might happen if they did not [reach an accord]. If Washington withdraws from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, he warned, Moscow will set aside its 1993 nuclear arms reduction treaty with the United States and put multiple warheads on its missile force."

The paper writes: "The White House should take Mr. Putin's warning seriously. [His] words reinforce an already strong case for amending or replacing the ABM treaty rather than simply abandoning it. If both countries start renouncing existing arms control agreements, Americans will be less secure from nuclear missile dangers than they are now." It adds: "The United States can proceed with all the research and testing it needs in the next few years without withdrawing from the ABM treaty. [Efforts should be made to amend or supercede the treaty] while maintaining the restrictions still necessary to prevent a dangerous new arms race."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" says that current negotiations between Macedonian politicians and Western diplomats may be the country's last chance to find a diplomatic solution and avert what it calls "another full-scale ethnic war in the Balkans." The paper writes that questions remain regarding whether Macedonia's Slavs are "prepared to take the steps that could fully integrate Albanians into a unitary state, including changes in the Macedonian Constitution that would put Albanians on an equal political footing with Slavs."

The success of the negotiations, the editorial continues, also requires "concerted engagement by Western governments in the coming weeks and months -- [and] that poses a test for the Bush administration." It says that, in keeping with the U.S. president's pledge to reduce U.S. commitments in the Balkans, "American participation has been carefully limited. [If] the arm's-length strategy works," the paper says, "Macedonia could serve as a demonstration of how European governments and troops can take the lead in handling a crisis on the Continent." "But if this peace process breaks down," it warns, "Macedonia is unlikely to get another chance."


In a commentary in the French daily "Liberation," Marc Semo considers Sunday's (17 June) electoral victory of the former Bulgarian king, Simeon II, and his political movement. Semo writes that Simeon is facing "a desperate population immersed in the misery of an endless transition [from communism, and] demoralized by corruption." He says the ex-king has not always been forthcoming about what his intentions are for his own political future or for that of the nation. So far, Semo notes, Simeon has not even clearly stated whether or not he will agree to be prime minister.

Semo finds Simeon equally vague in his response to the question of a possible restoration of the monarchy, noting he has said only that this is an issue for Bulgarians to decide. He writes: "Simeon is fond of grand, but somewhat hollow, phrases. Thus, he has undertaken -- confusingly -- to increase pensions, salaries, and loans to small and medium-sized firms, while [at the same time lowering] the public deficit and maintaining low inflation."

Semo also notes that Simeon has promised to "free Bulgaria from corruption, one of the causes of the country's poverty and of its delay on its way to the European Union." The writer thinks a mixture of neo-liberalism and populism underlies the ex-king's wide appeal. He quotes Bulgarian political analyst Evguenii Dainov as saying that in Sunday's election, Bulgarians "voted for [a] leader who promises them [everything. But] it could end again in tears."


In a commentary for "The Wall Street Journal Europe," analysts George Priest and Franco Romani examine the attempts by the giant U.S. company General Electric, or GE, to acquire another big U.S. firm, Honeywell. They say the acquisition is not likely to be approved by EU regulators, despite earlier approvals by both U.S. and Canadian antitrust authorities.

The analysts write that, because the European Commission has regulatory authority to police competition within EU markets, GE must either submit to what they call "the draconian restrictions that the commission seeks to impose" or forgo sales within the EU. The write, "The legal standard in the European Union for evaluation mergers or acquisitions is whether the acquisition creates or strengthens a dominant position."

EU regulators, they continue, have decided that as a result of the merger, the dominance of the two firms, taken together, will increase. The remedy suggested by the regulators, they write, "is to reduce dominance by taking away from GE some number of the components upon which GE hopes to build its future business."

In an increasingly globalized marketplace, they argue, "the European Commission's antitrust theories are dangerous. [The recommendations of the commission's Merger Task Force] will reduce efficiencies -- not only in European markets but around the world and especially in the U.S."