Volkskrant Stories From Out of Left Field

Thursday, November 20th, 2003

In its continual quest for innovation, today EuroSavant reverses the matrix, so to speak. (No, not “Matrix” – there will be no more discussion here of that pseudo-philosophical, black-leather-and-Ray-bans film series). Usually I take a topic and go see what newspapers in a given national press have to say about it. Granted, occasionally it’s just “newspaper.” Today, though, I present you reporting from today’s Volkskrant on a couple of topics – a smoker’s responsibility, a singing trash can – mainly because, as far as I can tell, that paper is alone in staying on top of these vital issues.

To start with: Did you know that, when someone who has smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for most of his life dies prematurely from cancer, that is basically his own damn fault? You can read all about it in Gauloises Home-Free from Lung Cancer. (more…)

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It’s Official: France Wins the Budget Deficit Battle

Friday, October 31st, 2003

You know that has to be true when the hardest-liner on the side of making France pay a fine for its flouting of the 3%-of-GDP budget deficit limit, Dutch finance minister Gerrit Zalm, finally throws in the towel. That he is now doing so is clear from an interview published in today’s Het Financiële Dagbald (subscription required). The scheduled meeting next Monday evening of EU finance ministers, long thought to be a setting for confrontation, will now merely be a formality as the lenient stance proposed by EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Perdo Solbes is approved. Even though for him personally Monday’s meeting is sure to be, as the article puts it, “a long and unpleasant session,” in the end Zalm himself might even vote to approve Solbes’ proposal, if only to head off even more-lenient treatment of the French that some may use that occasion to advance. (more…)

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Danish Afterword on Madrid Conference

Monday, October 27th, 2003

In the end, last Thursday’s and Friday’s Madrid Iraqi Donors’ Conference seems to have turned out better than expected. The coverage in Denmark’s Politiken (Japan Gives Iraq $5 Billion) gives a final verdict that is middle-of-the-road: yes, donor countries “reached deeper into their pockets than had seemed would be the case even hours before the conference closed.” (As the headline recounts, Japan upped its contribution during the course of the conference, ultimately offering a soft loan of $3.5 billion, and an outright grant of $1.5 billion.) On the other hand, Politiken still calls the results disappointing for the Americans, who had hoped to call forth much more money than the result of $18 billion to add to the ca. $20 billion that the US Congress approved (half of it a loan). On yet another hand, the article points out, for a long time there were doubts whether there would even be enough support to hold the conference in the first place.

Overall, the world’s press has plenty in the results of the Madrid Conference to see either a glass half-full or half-empty, according to the given newspaper’s (and/or its journalist’s) inclination or political stance. It’s rather more refreshing to come across a piece of commentary on these happenings which is willing to put them into a wider context, even if it turns out to be a very anti-Coalition one. This is what we have in the article in the Danish commentary newspaper Information entitled A New Iraq. (more…)

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An Interim IGC Evaluation: Buy Your Dollars Now!

Tuesday, October 21st, 2003

As varied as the individual details may have been, one theme clearly predominates the preceding accounts on this website, from the French, Dutch, and the Czech press, of the progress of the EU draft Constitution Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) so far. And that is, of course, that there has been virtually none – indeed, that there is even considerable dissatisfaction over the process currently being used to try to gain common agreement on an EU Constitution. (more…)

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The German and French Posture on Iraq

Friday, September 19th, 2003

EuroSavant veterans will recognize the following as the latest manifestation of a tried-and-true formula: commentary out of the German newspaper Die Zeit as reflected in Thomas Friedman’s column for the New York Times. I shouldn’t do too much of this, over and over – I don’t like to fall into predictable formulas – but lately commentary on the French and German reaction to America’s need for help in Iraq has come together in a propitious way, to include in addition a contribution today to that same New York Times Op-Ed page (and so in English, of course) from German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. (more…)

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Holland Takes Aim at Stability Pact Violators

Wednesday, September 17th, 2003

Today is “Holland Day”! (To read why, see my previous post for today, below.) And this time I have a fairly serious subject to treat, namely the seeming determination on the part of highest Dutch government officials that the Stability and Growth Pact (hereafter just “Stability Pact”), which was added to European law in 1997 and whose key provision is that governments are not allowed to run budget deficits of more than 3% of their GDP, be enforced. When governments violate this rule, they’re supposed to be fined millions of euros by the European Commission; Germany and France are about to violate it for the third year in a row (Italy is also apparently a violator), and, as we’ll see, the Dutch together with some of their friends within the EU want to see those fines applied, even if it happens to be the two most influential countries against which that would happen, the very “motor” of EU development. (more…)

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September 11 Special – “We Are Not All Americans”

Thursday, September 11th, 2003

As an apt accompaniment to its coverage of all of today’s “September 11” ceremonies, remembrances, etc., the New York Times is also publishing a lengthy article by Berlin correspondent Richard Bernstein entitled Foreign Views of U.S. Darken Since Sept. 11 – basically about how the Bush administration within a mere two years has managed to squander all the sympathy and good-will that was being mind-beamed by foreigners in the direction of the US in the wake of the catastrophic attacks in New York and Washington. “Gone are the days,” Bernstein writes (towards the end of the article), “when 200,000 Germans marched in Berlin to show solidarity with their American allies, or when Le Monde, the most prestigious French newspaper, could publish a large headline, ‘We Are All Americans.'”

Things have reached a point, Bernstein notes, where “more recently” the French weekly Nouvel Observateur published an editorial entitled “We Are Not All Americans.”

That sort of mention always makes my antennae pop up and go “zing!”, and my fingers scramble to my keyboard to summon my faithful search engine. (Trusty “Geegor,” if you know what I’m trying to say.) Of course Geegor found this Nouvel Observateur article on-line, and a mighty interesting piece it is, too. Problem is (and, darn it, material in the Nouvel Observateur seems to suffer from this chronically), it’s written in French.

Hey! Hooya gonna call? Why, your friendly neighborhood EuroSavant, of course! Just look under the “Savant” heading in your local Yellow Pages!

Or, if you’re interested in what the French have to say, and you’re blessed with a connection to the Internet, you could instead click on “More…” (more…)

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“The Sinners are We”

Sunday, September 7th, 2003

That’s the title of an interesting commentary piece in the latest Die Zeit by Uwe Jean Heuser – a remarkable mea culpa for Germany from a German writer, which puts into stark relief the striking (if rather unfortunate) ironies attending the birth of the Euro and the current state of finances in Euroland (that is, in those twelve-out-of-fifteen EU countries that have adopted it as their common currency). (more…)

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French Government Feels the Heat

Monday, August 18th, 2003

The great European Heat Wave of summer 2003 has now itself died down, but the heat is still definitely on the government and public health authorities in France, where the Health Ministry estimates that up to 3,000 people might have died – and other sources estimate up to 5,000. Today Prof. Lucien Abenhaïm, the French directeur général de la santé – “director general of health,” or namely the professional physician filling the role in the Health Ministry similar to the US Surgeon General – submitted his resignation to Health Minister Jean-François Mattei. Only last Friday, interviewed in English by the BBC World Service, he had opined that he should not resign, and said he wasn’t particularly worried about holding down his job. Of course, many in France believe that it is M. Mattei himself who should resign in light of the public health crisis from the heat that seemed to take the government by surprise.

In its coverage today of Prof. Abenhaïm’s resignation, Le Monde revealed why the professor had now changed his mind about staying in his post. (more…)

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A Half-Hearted Cheer for the Americans from Le Figaro

Saturday, August 9th, 2003

It has been one hundred days since George W. Bush flew onto that aircraft carrier off of California to stand beneath a giant banner reading “Mission Accomplished” and declare that major combat operations in Iraq had come to an end. Nonetheless, events since then – such as the deaths there of 119 further American soldiers, and the continued survival of Saddam Hussein – have shown that the American engagement in Iraq is far from done. The Bush administration marked this 100-day anniversary both by releasing to the public a 24-page report entitled “Results in Iraq: 100 Days Toward Security and Freedom,” and by plucking the President himself out of vacation-mode at his Crawford ranch to speak reporters for 18 minutes (this according to an account in the Washington Post). “We’ve made a lot of progress in a hundred days, and I am pleased with the progress we’ve made, but fully recognize we’ve got a lot more work to do,” was his pronouncement.

Point – Counter-Point: Writing in Le Figaro, Georges Suffert gives an appraisal from the French point-of-view of what the Americans have accomplished in Iraq, and in that part of the world in general, in an editorial entitled Bush dans les sables du Proche-Orient, or “Bush in the sands of the Mid-East.” (more…)

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The EU: Poland’s Fourth Partition?

Saturday, June 7th, 2003

Here in Wroclaw, it’s a bright and sunny first day of voting in the Polish EU accession referendum. More guerrilla anti-EU material has popped up, in a last-minute attempt to change people’s minds – this time, it was in the form of posters showing the famous EU twelve-yellow-stars-on-a-dark-blue-field emblem – with a swastika in the middle, and the caption up above “Rozbior Polski” – the partition of Poland. That should strike a chord with historically-oriented Polish voters: in the famous 18th-century partitions of Poland, Poland’s neighboring states (then Prussia, Russia, and the Austrian Empire) agreed among themselves to simply reach out and grab the pieces of Polish territory that they wanted, and Poland was too weak at the time to do anything to defend herself. There were three of these land-grabs, and by the end of the third there was no more Polish land to seize any more, as it all had been taken – and Poland was not to re-emerge as an independent nation for more than a century, namely in 1918 directly after the First World War. (more…)

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French Alarm over the EU Constitutional Convention

Friday, May 30th, 2003

Returning to its non-English-language roots, EuroSavant today examines reactions to the unveiling of the draft EU constitution on the Continent (or “in Europe,” as certain British newspapers are wont to call that land mass stretching out on the other side of the Channel – as if they don’t happen to be part of it, legally, administratively, and even historically). And yes, loyal and long-standing €S readers, we first consider France. Surely there everyone is firmly on the side of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the Constitutonal Convention’s president, and his draft document. (more…)

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Germany on the Lifting of Iraqi Sanctions

Sunday, May 25th, 2003

Today we treat the German view of the recent 14-0 vote of the UN Security Council (on which Germany now serves as a non-permanent member) to lift most sanctions against Iraq. (more…)

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UN Security Council Resolution 1483: Sanctions Against Iraq Lifted

Friday, May 23rd, 2003

Yesterday the UN Security Council voted 14-0 for a resolution to lift the UN sanctions on Iraq that dated to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait of August, 1990, and thereby to grant allied forces now present in Iraq considerable international authority in the occupation and rebuilding of the country. For a while it had looked as if the Security Council would fail to agree on such a lifting of sanctions in much the same manner as it had failed to agree on authorization for the attack on Iraq, and with the same core of opposition from France, Germany, and Russia. While the American-British “coalition” argued that, with Hussein’s regime consigned to history, the sanctions’ purpose and target had clearly disappeared, so that the legal framework needed to be restored for international transactions undertaken for the benefit of the Iraqi people (most especially oil sales), these latter countries recognized that such UN approval represented the last leverage they had left to insert the UN and the international community generally into some sort of position of influence over what is to become of Iraq. There was also the issue of trying to head off any sort of cancellation of debts incurred by Hussein’s regime to their countries and/or companies of their nationality, and they were unwilling to make any gesture that could be construed as an ex post facto approval of the war that the Security Council never approved before it was unleashed. So French, German, and Russian diplomats and their political bosses in the past few weeks have tried to head off the lifting of sanctions by adopting the rather cynical pose that, after all, sanctions were imposed subject to lifting only when Iraq had been cleared of the presence of weapons of mass destruction, and that had not happened yet. (The fact that extensive searching has yet to uncover significant signs of Iraqi WMD could very well be important, in the sense of making a case for a certain element of deception having been employed to make the original case for war, but it has no relevance to the lifting of Iraqi sanctions; no matter what, Iraq clearly no longer represents any WMD or otherwise military danger to its neighbors or to the international community generally.)

But now sanctions are lifted, and by a unanimous Security Council vote minus the abstention of Syria – that is, completely lifted, and not just “suspended,” as had been a mooted halfway-house solution during the recent diplomatic stand-off over the issue. True, to get here there were certain concessions made from the allied side – e.g. enhanced powers for the UN special representative – but it’s unclear just how much of a sacrifice they represented in the allied position. Were there winners and losers here, or was a solution reached that was truly satisfactory for all? You can get the “allied” viewpoint yourself from your favorite American/British press outlet(s), but it’s EuroSavant that can let you know what they’re saying on the “other side.” As is my habit, I start with France. (more…)

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“It’s just what we need”

Monday, May 12th, 2003

EuroSavant is taking a few days off to head to sunny Barcelona, Spain. I expect to resume posting this upcoming Thursday, 15 May 2003, by around 12:00 noon UTC (that’s 8:00 AM Eastern Daylight Time, 7:00 AM Central Daylight Time, etc.). So all e-mail correspondents need to reckon with possible delays in my response.

I’m taking along with me as food for serious thought an article from the on-line edition of the Hamburg weekly Die Zeit, Wir haben’s gerate nötig (“It’s just what we need”), by Richard Herzinger, which I would recommend to all of you who can read German and are interested in Germany’s current place in the post-War in Iraq world. (more…)

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And a German Dispute Eastwards . . .

Thursday, May 8th, 2003

Once again Iraq is causing divisions within NATO. This time it’s between the Poles and the Germans. In one respect, this is nothing new: Chancellor Schröder’s SPD-Green administration had always made it clear that it would not support a war in Iraq, in any way, even if it were given official United Nations approval – e.g. if the so-called “Second Resolution” had passed the Security Council. On the other hand, Poland was one of the few nations (the others including only Australia and Albania) to actually send troops to contribute to the military effort of the War in Iraq. In fact, Polish commandos did some rather good work in securing Iraqi oil platforms offshore in the Persian Gulf once hostilities got under way.

But the war phase is now over, and the occupation phase has begun. (more…)

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The EU Gang of Four – Part III

Friday, May 2nd, 2003

Germany was the odd-man-out at the recent defense summit between the German and French presidents and Belgian and Luxembourgian premiers: Chancellor Schröder’s government has been the one trying the hardest for a rapprochement with the American administration after the divisions caused by the War in Iraq. Indeed, as Anke Bryson notes in the Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung Weekly, both Schröder and his foreign minister Joschka Fischer wanted to keep this “mini-summit” a low-profile affair, out of respect for the sensibilities of the Bush Administration – “but the publicity damage had already been done.”

We’ve seen how elements of the French press took this meeting seriously, while the Belgian press was more cynical, doubting that anything would ever come of this summit taking place on its own soil. Whatever the sotto voce protestations of German officials, they did accept the invitation to attend the Brussels meeting and did show up there. It’s time to check the German press’ reactions. (more…)

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The EU Gang of Four – Part II

Thursday, May 1st, 2003

Belgium provided the locale for this week’s meeting of the German, French, Belgian, and Luxembourgian heads of state to discuss the new European defense initiative. What do the Belgian papers have to say? (more…)

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The EU Gang of Four – Part I

Wednesday, April 30th, 2003

The heads of state of France, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg met yesterday in Brussels to launch a new European defense initiative for a multinational force to flesh out the European Union’s foreign and security policies. Presidents Chirac and Schröder and Prime Ministers Verhofstadt and Juncker took pains to emphasize that they were not acting against NATO nor against that alliance’s senior partner, the United States.

Of course, besides Luxembourg, it is true that these were the European countries in the forefront of opposition to America and its “coalition of the willing” as they undertook their assault on Iraq. And many do intrepret this as an anti-NATO gesture – the Times of London‘s foreign editor Bronwen Maddox speaks of a “direct hit on Nato” and “payback time” for these four countries. What do the countries involved have to say for themselves? (more…)

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France vs. America: A Hungarian View

Saturday, April 26th, 2003

Now it’s time to start to consider the Franco-American split through the eyes of European nations which did not share France’s pre-war view as to the advisability of an attack on Iraq. Let’s first try Hungary, supposedly a member of “New Europe” and among the countries in effect told to “shut up” by French President Jacques Chirac in the wake of signing a letter of support for the pre-war US stance against Iraq. (more…)

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France vs. US: The German View

Friday, April 25th, 2003

In the run-up to the War in Iraq Germany joined Russia and France in what the Economist has termed the salon des refusés in opposition to the US hard line. Now, as yesterday’s entry showed, a deep split between the US and France has arisen on lifting economic sanctions and the legal basis for proceeding with Iraq’s reconstruction generally, while Germany has downplayed its differences with the Bush administration. What is the German judgment on the Franco-American tiff? (more…)

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“France Must Pay!”: The Current Franco-American Rift

Thursday, April 24th, 2003

It came on US publicly-funded television – on PBS’ Charlie Rose show – and from the highest-level Bush administration official charged with diplomacy generally and with keeping relations civil with our allies in particular. When asked whether it was intended that France suffer consequences for its obstructionist stance in the run-up to the War in Iraq, Secretary of State Colin Powell bluntly replied “Yes,” and then “We’ll have to look at all aspects of our relations with France in the light of that.” (more…)

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