Accessibility links

Breaking News

Western Press Review: Debating The Euro And A 'Multispeed' Europe, Russia's War In Chechnya

Prague, 17 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- In light of Sweden's rejection of the euro in a referendum over the weekend (14 September), much of the media is focused today on the prospect of a "multispeed" EU combining countries within the euro-zone and those happy to stay at the fringes. We also hear calls for suspending Russia's membership at the Council of Europe for its actions in Chechnya and take another look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


"So it is going to be a multi-speed Europe," says Hamish McRae in the British daily "The Independent." In the wake of Sweden's "no" vote on the euro on Sunday, he says it seems highly probable that Sweden, Denmark, and Britain may choose to stay outside the eurozone for the foreseeable future. The European Union's 10 new members, expected in May 2004, also may decide not to join the single currency. While they are required to join if they qualify, "they may choose not to qualify if that were to mean slower growth."

If non-euro countries continue to outperform the eurozone, McRae says, "the growing economic power of the 'outs' will compensate for the political power of the 'ins.'" Non-euro states may prefer the economic advantages and see that as compensation for not having a major voice in all EU negotiations. "And in so far as their rapid growth makes them attractive places to export to and invest in, the economic success will of itself give them a considerable voice." Meanwhile, core EU countries led by Paris and Berlin "will press on with a closer union."

The commentator says Europe "will inevitably become more complex," and "one-size-fits-all policies" may at times fail. "The task is to create the political structures for Europe that reflect the democratic desires of its members, not to use money or authority to override those desires."


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe" today, Gabriel Stein of the London-based firm Lombard Street Research also discusses the "no" vote in the Swedish referendum, saying many rejected the euro out of fears it would force "painful structural reform" on the country. But in fact, he says, joining a "low-growth area like the euro-zone, where countries tend to have the same problems as Sweden, was not going to be a spur to structural, market-oriented reform."

The Swedish rejection may well affect the 10 countries looking to join the EU in May of next year, he says. There will soon be "a sizeable group of countries that manage to combine membership of the EU with non-membership of EMU. These countries all have higher trend growth rates than the euro-zone." While all aim to eventually join the single currency, Stein says it seems unlikely until 2008 "at the earliest." By then, he says, "some of them may well find that life outside the euro-zone is considerably better than it would be inside, where you abdicate both monetary and fiscal policy."

Stein says the euro is no longer the historical inevitability it was once believed to be. "If the euro is to be accepted by all, it will have to first become the currency of a more dynamic Europe."


Writing in the "Financial Times," George Parker and Quentin Peel say Sweden's electorate "has resoundingly rejected joining the eurozone as a full member, in a poll widely seen as a vote of no-confidence in closer European integration." Yet, at the same time, they point out, seven out of eight new members from the former Soviet bloc have voted by large majorities in favor of joining the union. Latvia, the last to hold a referendum, is headed to the polls this weekend (20 September). The Swedish referendum has also "sparked fears that if the future constitution is put to the vote, [some] members will say 'No' -- and bring the whole project to a halt."

The euro-zone "is already an example of a two-speed Europe, although only Britain, Denmark and Sweden remain outside." But come May 2004, 10 new EU members will "bring in different interests. They are less keen on environmental protection, for example, and immigration" than are Western EU members. The "overwhelming concern" of aspirant nations "is about being successfully integrated into the Union. But they do not want to be second-class members."

An enlarged Europe "faces a tough choice. It could either let the founder members cooperate ever more closely, while others stay outside the process; or it could simply move at the speed of the slowest. The latter seems likely to be unacceptable to too many countries. Some sort of variable speed Europe is looking increasingly probable, whether the new members like it or not."


An editorial in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" comments on the decision by Germany, France, and Britain to hold talks on Iraq's future at a special summit in Berlin this Saturday.

The paper says since the beginning of the debate over whether to go to war in Iraq over its alleged weapons of mass destruction, the leaders of Germany, France, and Great Britain "have pursued their own individual paths." Now these three countries, the U.S.'s closest allies in Europe, are about to seek out a compromise and reach some kind of agreement, something the paper says "they should have done long ago." The "most important policymakers in Europe should have recognized that prolonged discord benefits no one in the long run: neither Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, embattled at home, nor Germany's Gerhard Schroeder or France's Jacques Chirac."

The commentary says that even those nations that failed to receive an invitation to the Berlin talks "should take comfort in the German-French-British efforts."


Another commentary in today's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" focuses on the logic behind Israel's stated desire to "eliminate" Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The paper remarks that Israel's consideration "of physically eliminating Arafat is meeting with a far greater outcry than the myriad illegal targeted killings to date."

There is a well-founded fear that the conflict between Israel and Palestine could develop into a conflagration in the entire Arab-Islamic world. In spite of his misguided policies, Arafat cannot be compared with the generally despised Saddam Hussein of Iraq. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is also aware of this, says the paper.

Nevertheless, the German paper says consciously or unconsciously, Sharon is pursuing a certain logic in aiming to annihilate Arafat. Anyone who begins eliminating first the activists of Fatah, then Hamas and, in the end, their current leader -- even while the terrorist attacks persist -- must logically declare the top-ranking Palestinian as a target as well.


"The Moscow Times" today carries a contribution from human rights lawyer and author Miriam Kosmehl, in which she calls on the Council of Europe to suspend Russia's membership for its actions in Chechnya. She says that Russia was admitted to the Council of Europe for what she calls "strategic reasons" -- "to pursue the worthy objective of pulling the country into the democratic orbit of Western Europe."

But Russia's geo-strategic importance "should not mean that it can do what it likes with impunity and without censure," she says. "So far the international response to Chechnya has been too little, too late, and too ineffective." The Council's Article 8, regarding expulsions from the Council of Europe, "is rendered meaningless if Russia's repeated failure to adhere to the council's statute goes unpunished."

Kosmehl says Russia's membership "should be suspended and its reinstatement be made conditional on the fulfillment of specific actions. Above all it should be demanded that actions be taken to make people legally responsible for the violation of human rights." Among those allegedly being perpetrated in Chechnya are "arbitrary arrests without warrants and illegal detentions, often resulting in the disappearance of the victims; extra-judicial executions; torture and inhuman or degrading treatment."

How the council deals with Russia is "a litmus test" for Europe, says Kosmehl. "Seven years after admitting it, Europe's most important human rights body cannot afford to show patience to a Russia that has persistently failed to mend its ways."


Writing in France's daily "Liberation," Philippe Dessertine says to allow the euro to fail would be to destroy 25 years' worth of efforts on the part of hundreds of millions of Europeans. Europe built itself on the economy, he says. And while valid criticisms remain, economics is fundamentally connected to both peace and civic freedom. While the West seems obsessed with economics to the exclusion of other values, perhaps this is because war has for so long been banished from Western Europe's soil.

An economy rooted in political freedom needs a symbol of the wealth it creates, Dessertine says, and this symbol is its currency. When it fails, he says, the economic engine seizes up; it no longer matters much what factories produce or what consumers buy. The recent currency crises in Latin American and Southeast Asia once again illustrated this reality. He says Europe itself saw this in Italy in the 1920s, and in Germany and more broadly in the 1930s.

(Dora Slaba contributed to this report)