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Western Press Review: The Wisdom Of The Chirac-Schroeder EU Proposal

Prague, 16 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary spreads its attention today over a variety of topics, from governance of the European Union to the prospect of Libya as chair of the UN Human Rights Commission.


Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" disapproves in an editorial of what it calls the "bizarre" proposal by German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac that the European Union develop a double presidency. "At first sight, the Franco-German proposal that the EU should have a double presidency, which was unveiled by Chancellor Schroeder and President Chirac in Paris on Tuesday [14 January], is so bizarre that it is hard to credit. There has long been an argument about whether the EU needs some form of elected president to give it more political legitimacy, or should stick with an appointed figure as at present."

The editorial continues: "No one, though, has previously suggested that the answer would be to have one of each. But with France and Germany behind the idea, that may well be what we end up with; a president of the commission elected by the European Parliament, and a president of the Council of Ministers appointed by the member states."

The editorial worries that having the European Parliament elect the president of the European Commission would be a large step toward a federated Europe. "If [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair really wields the influence that he claims in Europe, he must not let himself be bounced into a proposal which can only reduce what is left of our national sovereignty -- and would probably prove unworkable to boot."


"The Wall Street Journal Europe" says in an editorial that delegates from across Europe have been laboring to draft a document on the future governance of the EU. "But late on Tuesday [14 January] night, over a fine dinner in Paris, the leaders of France and Germany chose to make their own decisions about how Europe will be governed in the future. So much for all those earnest deliberations in Brussels."

The newspaper says: "The future president of the European Commission, a post currently held by the Italian Romano Prodi, would be elected by the European Parliament rather than appointed, behind closed doors, by the heads of the member states. The EU would also get a titular 'president' of the Council of Ministers of the member states, the supreme decision-making body."

The editorial poses a number of questions: "Will the touted changes make the EU more democratically accountable, as many European leaders, Mr. Prodi among them, have said the constitutional reform must do? Will it make the EU easier to govern, particularly as the bloc grows from 15 to 25 members next year? Will an elected commission president or the new council president help clarify the division of labor between Brussels, the national capitals and Europe's various regions? Will the EU become more efficient in carrying out its assigned tasks?"


Peter Riddell says in a commentary in "The Times" of London that the Franco-German plan demonstrates Chirac's wiliness. "Jacques Chirac is the leader to watch in Europe. He speaks for most of the European Union on Iraq in a way that Tony Blair does not because of the prime minister's close ties to [U.S.] President [George W.] Bush. And Mr. Chirac has skillfully exploited the economic and political troubles of Gerhard Schroeder to push a French agenda, for example last October when the president delayed substantial reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.

"So when the French president and German chancellor meet -- as they did on Tuesday in Paris -- senior officials in London watch nervously. What would the two leaders cook up? Would Britain again be sidelined? In the event, the outcome -- a compromise over the future leadership of the EU -- was welcomed by Mr. Blair, who had a good idea what was likely after prior talks with Herr Schroeder."


An editorial in "The Independent" mourns the death on 14 January of a Manchester, England, police officer in a raid of an apartment occupied by Algerian asylum seekers. It warns against overly hasty or politicized reaction. "One thing is for certain about the ill-fated raid by the Greater Manchester Police on a flat in the Crumpsall area of the city on Tuesday evening. The murder of Stephen Oake, a brave police officer, is a tragedy for his family and the Manchester force. The prime minister was right to preface his remarks in the Commons yesterday with a generous tribute to this officer.

"Plainly, something went badly wrong in this raid, and an inquiry has been set up to ascertain what, if anything, can be done to minimize the risks of such a tragic turn of events recurring. It would be wise to await the conclusions of the inquiry before rushing to judgment about the actions of the police. Despite a refreshing candor about the operation on the part of the Greater Manchester Police, there are many details about the raid and about the occupants of the flat that remain unclear. That, however, has not prevented too many of our political leaders from trying to make political capital out of this episode."


On the same incident, Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" editorializes, "Questions will now be asked about whether those who ordered the police raid took sufficient precautions, whether operational mistakes were made, and whether the officers involved were well enough prepared by the intelligence services for what they might find."

The newspaper says, "There is, however, another influential group of individuals on whom the spotlight will now fall: the leaders of the Muslim community in Britain."

The editorial concludes: "It is therefore incumbent on Muslim leaders, clerical as well as secular, to condemn unreservedly these and all others who use Islam to justify terrorism. The Koran states: 'You shall not kill any man whom God has forbidden you to kill, except in a just cause.' Only those with the authority to interpret such passages, the British imams, can persuade their communities that the cause for which Stephen Oake was so viciously killed was not just, but unspeakably evil."


"The New York Times" speaks out editorially today about anti-Semitism in France, saying that the French government at last seeks to be taking the problem seriously. "Over the past two years France has been the site of hundreds of anti-Semitic incidents -- synagogues defaced, sacred texts burned, individuals menaced -- nearly all of them perpetrated by disaffected North African youths. The official reaction consisted of a Gallic shrug, as if to ask, What can you expect from poor Arabs when they watch brutal scenes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on television?"

The editorial says: "Lately there has been a marked and welcome change. Early this month a young rabbi in Paris was stabbed at the entrance to his synagogue by a man shouting "God is great" in Arabic. The rabbi was only superficially wounded, but the reaction of the government was swift and on target."

It adds, "The 500,000 French Jews nonetheless remain nervous and skeptical."

The editorial goes on, "It remains sadly common for French intellectuals and officials to discount Jewish anxiety and to suggest that if only Israel would do right by the Palestinians, the problems of France's Jews would disappear." The newspaper concludes: "What remains clear is that the French government has a responsibility to treat acts of hatred as what they are and to protect all its citizens."


Turning to Asia, "The Wall Street Journal in Europe" says in an editorial that China is moving glacially toward essential political reform, very likely too slowly. "Those who believe China's communist rulers have finally recognized the inevitability of political reform can point to some recent signs supporting their thesis. The issue is now being talked about more freely in China than at any time in several years. Party scholars have been dispatched to study Europe's social-democratic parties as a possible model to emulate and the communists' chief training institute, the Central Party School in Beijing, is setting up a think tank to study political change."

The newspaper adds, "As China continues to undergo a rapid economic and social transformation, that has brought unparalleled prosperity to many but thrown millions of others out of work, its society is becoming a pressure cooker where small incidents can set off explosive consequences."

It concludes: "But even if the communist leadership recognizes the problem, it is unlikely to embrace any move toward democracy at anything more than a snail-like pace. And that may be too slow to defuse the pressures building up in China before they explode."


Editorial-page editor Bruce Nussbaum writes in the current (20 January) issue of the U.S. "Business Week" magazine that President George W. Bush's foreign-policy pronouncements seem changeable and contradictory but that, fortunately, his behavior lags behind his words.

Nussbaum writes: "Not since the darkest days of the Cold War has the world seemed such a dangerous place. Iraq, North Korea, Al-Qaeda: All threaten the peace. But unlike the policies that clearly defined America's strategies in the conflict with the Soviet Union, containment and mutually assured destruction, U.S. foreign policy today appears confused, conflicted, and at times self-defeating."

The writer adds: "There remains much public confusion and trepidation about Bush foreign policy precisely because it is in transition. Rhetoric often doesn't match behavior, conflicting voices speak at the same time, and policies are still at variance with one another. Unilateralism may be out, but prevention remains in."

The commentary concludes: "The good news is that the reality of Bush foreign policy lags behind its rhetoric -- and how it is perceived. The president and his White House foreign policy advisors appear to be on a learning curve."


"The Boston Globe" in an editorial brands as farcical the candidacy of Libya for the coming year's chair of the UN Human Rights Commission. "At present there is but one candidate to chair the UN Human Rights Commission for the coming year, and that is Libya. If the ramifications for Libyans and the cause of human rights around the world were not as serious as they are, the looming chairmanship of Moammar Ghadafi's repressive regime would be a sick joke."

The editorial continues: "Sad to say, it is characteristic of the failings of the Human Rights Commission that the UN's Africa regional group, whose turn it was to provide the commission with a leader, nominated Libya for the job without proposing other contenders. Too often in the past, the governments chosen to lead the commission have used their position to protect or advance their narrowly conceived national interests."

It concludes: "It should be the responsibility of democracies such as those here and in Europe to improve their own imperfect records on human rights and unite in preventing Ghadafi from making the very notion of a UN Human Rights Commission seem a farce."


Several commentaries in the German press examine the Franco-German EU proposal.

Writing in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Christian Wernicke calls the double presidency idea a "patchwork of a rediscovery of Franco-German friendship." Wernicke says, "The double legitimacy has its roots in the diverse traditions in Europe" and the latest proposals for an EU constitution "cement the contradictions." He concludes, "There is no need for two emperors; one is ample."


The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" editorializes that yet another compromise between Paris and Berlin would not be bad in itself "if the Brussels jungle became more transparent and cooperation were simplified." It says, however, that there are indications that the proposed measure will only induce more competition and friction.


Writing in "Die Welt," Dietrich Alexander says that "much in the proposal makes sense." He writes, "What is really encouraging is the existence of cooperation and that there is again movement between Berlin and Paris."

The writer says: "The frequently declared dead Franco-German motor is again getting a jump start when required. Time and again it has become a motor for the European flagship."


In the "Frankfurter Rundschau," commentator Martin Winter says the proposals is a move in the right direction. "A double presidential function would propel integration and would maintain continuity. It is certainly not the best of all solutions but it is commendable that France and Germany have risen again as European reformers."


Writing today in "The Guardian," Seumas Milne predicts approvingly that members of Britain's antiwar movement will turn increasingly to civil disobedience. "If anyone could sell George Bush's planned war of aggression against Iraq, surely it should be Tony Blair, a politician whose career has been built on his ability to smooth talk his way out of a crisis. He has been straining every nerve to do just that for the past week."

"But," the writer says, "all the signs are that his spin offensive simply isn't working."

Milne writes: "As things stand, there must be every expectation that Tony Blair is prepared to drag this country into a profoundly dangerous U.S. imperial adventure in the teeth of mass public opposition without even the veneer of prior parliamentary endorsement. One result is that sections of what is already Britain's largest-ever antiwar movement will turn to civil disobedience."

He concludes: "If this war goes ahead, many others are likely to follow their lead. In such circumstances, direct action will not simply be justified, it will be a democratic necessity."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)