Prague, 8 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Several discussions in the Western press today revisit the euro, after a smooth week of transition gives way to speculation regarding its political ramifications. Other topics addressed include the EU's economic priorities; political turmoil in Italy, following the foreign minister's resignation; relations between the U.S. and Uzbekistan; Argentina's continuing economic crisis; and changing tactics in the Middle East.
An editorial in "The Times" of London considers political turbulence in the wake of the 1 January introduction of the euro single currency notes and coins. The sudden resignation over the weekend (5 January) of the pro-European Union Italian foreign minister, Renato Ruggiero, has left Italy in an uncertain position with respect to the union.
Ruggiero had publicly criticized his government's lack of enthusiasm over the new shared currency. But "The Times" says the real conflict "is less between shapers of opinion about the euro than about who has the right to shape Italy's EU policy." The paper says Italians themselves should form this policy, through their elected officials.
That is also the view of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi "is strongly committed to the EU and its future expansion," the paper says. "He does, however, believe that his country should be more forceful in the pursuit of its interests and perspective within the EU and should not participate in projects which are to its disadvantage merely in the name of European solidarity. That is a reasonable position," says "The Times."
The editorial concludes, "Even the smoothest exchange of currencies was certain to bring eventual political turbulence in the euro-zone."
An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" suggests that Spain, as the new incumbent of the rotating EU presidency, should prioritize the union's goals in order to encourage economic growth.
The editorial says that Spain and the rest of the EU "face tough challenges in the coming months. Economic activity in much of Europe is increasingly anemic and efforts to stimulate it are hampered by an excessively timid approach to market liberalization. Meanwhile, the euro and European Central Bank have yet to win the full confidence of global markets," it says.
Restoring growth should be the EU's priority, says the paper. "Its first task must be to re-energize the structural reform agenda agreed by its leaders in Lisbon two years ago." The "Financial Times" says although progress has been made, the reforms may be suffering from a "flagging political will."
Spain should also concentrate on integrating the financial markets of EU member states, the paper says. At the same time, "tensions between the ECB and euro-zone finance ministers must be reduced. Their public frictions have harmed policy credibility."
"On the political front, the Spanish presidency will be responsible for launching the EU's constitutional convention as an open, democratic exercise and for implementing the antiterrorism measures agreed by leaders last month. However, it must not let its national preoccupation with the latter overshadow other, equally important, EU goals."
An editorial in France's daily "Le Monde" calls the resignation of Italian Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero "a logical exit," and says EU-enthusiast Ruggiero "could not remain for long as the foreign secretary of Silvio Berlusconi." He would not have been able to remain part of a team whose members are not only euro-skeptics but euro-averse, it says. But he had a precise role to play, says the editorial.
As a Europhile, rare in the new government team, he anchored the European and international credibility of Berlusconi's Italy when it was not inspiring confidence in its European partners. Ruggiero tried hard, says the paper. But "he could no longer reconcile his convictions," his support of Italy within Europe, with the "euro-contemptuous line of the Berlusconi government."
"Le Monde" says this conflict was made clear on the occasion of one of the "most important and exciting moments" of European development -- the arrival of the euro. It was then that "the masks fell," says the paper. The image cracked when government officials publicly declared their disinterest in -- even disdain for -- the new currency.
But this was not surprising, the paper adds, given the Berlusconi government's unwillingness to participate in, and its "obstructionist" behavior toward, common European projects.
THE BOSTON GLOBE:
In "The Boston Globe," regular columnist and editor of "The American Prospect" political magazine Robert Kuttner says that "Argentina is the latest failure" of the economic model that the United States and the International Monetary Fund try to impose on developing countries. This model encourages developing nations "to open their economies wide to foreign investment -- to allow their banks, public utilities, and anything else to be sold to the highest foreign bidder."
"Argentina followed the IMF model more faithfully than almost any other nation," says Kuttner. "Its economy was opened wide; its peso was pegged to the dollar. [But] as Argentina's economy failed, the IMF's austerity program pushed the economy further into collapse."
Kuttner goes on to say the countries that suffer most from globalization are those like Argentina, that are coerced into "leaving themselves vulnerable." He quotes Amartya Sen, the 1998 Nobel Prize-winner in economics, as saying that today's globalization is "'much more concerned with expanding the domain of market relations than [with] establishing democracy, expanding elementary education, or enhancing the social opportunities of society's underdogs.'"
Kuttner says that the current model promoted by the U.S. and the IMF "is tilted to benefit investors often at the expense of ordinary people, particularly in the Third World." He adds, "The countries that have had the highest growth rates, such as Korea and China, [are] precisely those that have resisted much of the IMF model."
An editorial in "Eurasia View" looks at the new economic and strategic cooperation between the U.S. and Uzbekistan. Uzbek cooperation with U.S. antiterrorism efforts has redefined relations between the two nations. The editorial says an "implicit understanding" is now in place in which the United States will provide economic assistance in return for Uzbek economic and political reforms. But the editorial notes that several international observers are concerned the U.S. will not enforce this deal, and will allow the Uzbek government to benefit without improving its political or human rights records.
Uzbekistan has expressed its willingness "to introduce the convertibility of its national currency [and] to improve the foreign investment climate." The editorial quotes Democratic U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman as saying that the U.S. will be supportive regarding Uzbekistan's relationship with the International Monetary Fund and, in his words, to help the country "adopt a favorable investment climate, a climate in which American capital and business can succeed." Lieberman added that support would be limited unless Uzbekistan improves its human rights record.
But, the editorial notes, Lieberman's comments "did not reassure human rights observers in Uzbekistan. Several voiced doubts about Uzbekistan's commitment to fulfilling its end of the bargain concerning civil society improvements. They also tend to believe that security concerns will prompt the United States not to hold Uzbekistan accountable for its lack of action on reforms."
In the U.S.-based weekly magazine "Newsweek," staff writer Christopher Dickey looks at the future of European political integration. "Questions of what Europe should be, can be and will remain wide open -- and both the political and economic leadership of what will soon be the world's biggest unified market is up for grabs." Dickey says the "repeated failures to forge united defense and foreign policies" have chastened pro-EU idealists. "Administrative reforms that would democratize the European system have faltered -- and today there is almost no consensus on how the Union should govern itself, even though it's set to almost double in size by 2004," he says.
Dickey continues, "Everyone agrees that the time is ripe to reconsider Europe's vision of itself." Instead of an "unbending insistence on unity," he says, the key may be to pragmatically take stock of what works and allow member nations to integrate on their own terms. "Hence the importance of the new euro," he says. "What ultimately will make the difference to the [euro] holdouts -- Britain, Sweden, and Denmark -- is the bottom-line performance of the euro-zone economy and the strength of the new currency on world markets. So begins an era of watching and waiting," Dickey concludes.
An editorial in Austria's "Die Presse" discusses the resignation of Italian Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero, who stepped down complaining of the government's unwillingness to cooperate with EU initiatives. The writer says Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi probably did not take the resignation seriously, as his immediate reaction was to assume the portfolio himself. The paper remarks, "This media mogul is convinced of his own genius and that he is capable of doing everything better than anyone else." This certainly damages Italy's weight within the EU, it adds. "Berlusconi must seriously take into account that foreign policy does not merely consist of a toothpaste-ad smile. He must make haste in finding an expert for this important office."
The Swiss "Zuercher Zeitung" says that from the point of view of Italian politics, it was high time for Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero's resignation. The only surprise, says the paper, is that he remained in office for so long: "It was only a matter of time. And this was so from the very beginning." The prime minister only tolerated the popular Ruggiero to lend credibility to his government, the paper adds.
The commentary goes on to say that now, Italy is faced with a state of emergency with regard to the EU. The country must now clearly state the principles of its EU policy, present this with conviction and act accordingly, it says. "Without Ruggiero, this may be even more difficult than before," the paper concludes.
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:
In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Middle East affairs analyst David Shipler suggests that nonviolent Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation may prove more effective for achieving a mutually beneficial settlement.
"Against nonviolent resistance, Israel's right-wing governments would have had trouble seizing land and constructing Jewish settlements all over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Most Israelis, weary of occupation, resisted withdrawal only because they felt vulnerable to Arab attacks. A hundred Palestinian children pledging peace [would] have been more effective than a thousand Palestinian children chanting hatred and throwing lethal stones," he says.
Shipler says that both sides have been playing on each other's worst fears, thus creating more resistance to their own causes. From their decades of entanglement, he says, "all they seem to have learned is how to provoke sensations of insecurity and humiliation but not how to induce compromise. [They] know how to infuriate but not how to soothe, and soothing fears is a prerequisite to building coexistence."
Shipler says that Palestinians, for their part, "have never comprehended how malleable Israel could become to fulfill its yearning for virtue and acceptance. Instead they have made sure that the Israelis don't feel safe, and when you don't feel safe, you don't feel flexible. [Nor] has Israel allowed the Palestinians what they need: power, dignity, and a sense of momentum toward statehood."
THE WASHINGTON POST:
In "The Washington Post," Richard Cohen says the U.S. reluctance to commit ground troops to conflict zones may ultimately increase its risk of terrorist attacks. "The virtually nonexistent U.S. casualty rate [in Afghanistan] is either a signal achievement or a debacle in the making. [The] fact remains that America's war aims may well be compromised by America's reluctance to 'take casualties'...."
Cohen notes that those doing most of the on-the-ground fighting are not U.S. troops but Afghans. "They have been sent [into] places where Americans either will not or cannot go." The consequences of this policy "can be awful," says Cohen. "You name the place -- Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Somalia -- the United States had failed to finish the job. [It] would fire off a missile on occasion or send bombers screeching overhead, but it would not put men on the ground."
And little has changed, he adds. "[At] the moment, the fact remains that [America] has fought this war on the cheap. The response to the worst attack on American soil amounted to the hiring of [mercenary] Hessians. The United States would not even commit troops to sealing the border with Pakistan," he says.
Cohen concludes that "by reducing the cost of war to almost nil, we may have once again set the stage for yet more terrorism and bloodshed. There is a cost to almost no cost at all," he says.
THE WASHINGTON TIMES:
In today's "The Washington Times," Jessica Fugate of the Council on Foreign Relations considers NATO's role in light of U.S. operations in Afghanistan. She says the war in Afghanistan "has opened the door to a vigorous debate about NATO's purpose and U.S. strategic interest in Europe. America's response to the 11 September attacks marked a shift in U.S. attention and resources to other parts of the world.
"Are our European allies of diminished importance to U.S. interests?" Fugate asks. She responds that, on the contrary, "the United States must remain fully engaged in Europe."
There is a new relationship emerging, she says, "driven by the reminder of 11 September that we face common threats that demand coordinated responses." Fugate says the U.S. administration's decision "to carry the burden in Afghanistan, including its newly found interest in developing greater cooperation with Russia, must not undermine Washington's long-held policy of standing by Europe."
"Yet there is a gap between the administration's political rhetoric and the reality of the allies' military contribution," she says. "Europeans do not have the military capability for a mission of collective defense distant from the NATO treaty area." As a result, "NATO's military relevance is very much at issue," she says.
Fugate adds that the alliance's political value remains significant. However, "there is an imperative for the allies to develop mobile forces comparable to the United States."
(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)