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Thursday, 7 December, 2000, 10:28 GMT
Press gets Nice fever

With the creme de la creme of Europe's leaders gathered in the French Riviera for the summit marking the end of France's presidency of the European Union, Thursday's papers seem to have fallen foul of a nasty bout of Nice fever and talk of little else.

Not so Nice?

Like many of its fellow newspapers, the Swiss La Tribune De Geneve says "the future of the European Union is being decided in Nice".

"A fiasco in Nice would delay the process of enlargement by several years, cause a loss of international confidence, and have inevitable effects on the euro."

The paper notes that all 15 member states agree on what it calls "the imperative need to reform the Union's institutions". But they "differ on how to go about it".

It also hints that the summit may be biased in favour of insomniacs.

"[French President] Jacques Chirac, who will be in the chair, is determined to go on for as long as it takes," the paper notes. "He is on record as saying that he is prepared to extend the summit by more than 24 hours beyond its scheduled conclusion of 12 noon on Saturday."

"Nor will he hesitate to impose at least a sleepless night on his colleagues," the paper adds, "since fatigue tends to be conducive to concessions, as all good negotiators know."

The Italian La Stampa says that what it calls "a facade of modernity, transnationalism and keenness to extend borders and embrace populations" conceals "an anachronistic clash... harking back to the stale rivalries and tensions... of the old fratricidal Europe".

"It is sad to have to note that it is above all France, the forge of our democratic civilisation, that is playing the role... of an old-fashioned nation-state infiltrated like a mighty Trojan horse at the top of the European building."

"The reasons for the crisis that is threatening to turn Nice into an orphanage can be summed up with France's inability to take in realistically the historical changes that have eroded its supremacy in the Union since 1989," the paper says.

"Does a reunited Germany's quest for greater weight and greater prestige in the European house mean that it is planning a fourth Reich?" the paper asks. "Or does it instead mean that 80-plus million Germans are asking the Europe of citizens - not the Europe of states - for adequately proportional recognition?"

Most French headlines strike a sceptical note.

The Catholic La Croix says Nice is "the summit of an undecided Europe" while, "Can Europe relaunch itself?" is the question that Le Figaro puts to its readers.

"Fifteen deep in the institutional salad," says La Tribune, using the local speciality, the mixed salade nicoise, as a suitable simile for the continuing squabbles over institutional reforms.

"Bad weather for Nice summit", says France-Soir, in a reference to the combination of poor weather on the Riviera, demonstrations against globalisation and foreign criticism of the French presidency of the EU.

Some Europeans blame what they perceive as France's indecisive presidency as a result of the forced 'cohabitation' between a right-wing president and a socialist prime minister.

This assumption is also taken up by the left-wing Liberation, which points out that President Chirac and Prime Minister Jospin are both cautious on European issues while professing strong European views.

"This ambivalence, more than the constraints of cohabitation, explains the rather mediocre balance sheet of the French presidency," the paper says, before concluding that "last-minute rashness was a poor compensation for the arrogance, casualness and stubbornness" that came before.

The military angle

The Italian Il Sole 24 Ore ponders the warning from American Defence Secretary William Cohen that Nato risks becoming a relic of history if the planned European rapid reaction force means that the Union is going its own military way.

"Without the American infrastructures in Nato, the Europeans would be unable to take a single step," the paper says. This is why the new European force "can only get off the ground with Washington's blessing... at least until the Union can become truly autonomous for all practical purposes".

The Nice summit must therefore "take Europe seriously once and for all, and agree the necessary reforms to make it effective and credible".

The Slovak Pravda thinks it likely that the summit may bring to a head differences within Nato over the European Defence and Security Policy, the Esdp.

"For reasons that remain unclear, the United States fears that the creation of a 'European army' will threaten Nato's existence," the paper says.

"Needless to say, such fears are absolutely groundless," it adds. "More importantly, America's decision to voice them just hours before the summit was due to open can only be perceived as an attempt to exert pressure on the European Union."

"After all, the Union is planning to form rapid reaction units, not an entire army," it points out.

Nice gesture

"A friend in Nice is a friend indeed," says Warsaw's Gazeta Wyborcza in response to the German chancellor's visit to the Polish capital on the eve of the summit.

Chancellor Schroeder "made the fundamental declaration that Poland is part of Europe", the paper points out, "and the even more important pledge that Germany will do everything to give a political expression to this moral fact".

The German chancellor "even mentioned the year 2003, so pleasant to Polish ears", the paper says in an allusion to Poland's wish to be in the first wave of new EU members.

It adds that all of this has significance for what it calls "the miracle of Polish-German reconciliation".

Germany's Frankfurter Rundschau sees a special symbolism in Chancellor Schroeder's visit.

It recalls how 30 years ago the then Chancellor Willy Brandt "symbolically accepted German responsibility for the murder of Jews by kneeling at the Monument to the Heroes of the (Warsaw) Ghetto".

"Similarly, Schroeder's trip to Warsaw... and his pledge of support, are also symbolic," it says in a reference to the chancellor's promise to the Polish parliament.

Berlin's Die Tageszeitung takes a similar line, and believes that Mr Schroeder's timing was deliberate.

It also thinks that in so doing the present chancellor was looking for a niche in the history books - and a little warmth.

"While his predecessors, including Brandt and Kohl, can wrap themselves comfortably in the coat of history, Schroeder is standing there stark naked - at least for the time being," it notes in what we can only hope is a figure of speech.

Outside, looking in

The Hungarian Magyar Nemzet sees the Nice summitteers as metaphorical mountain climbers, as they "progress from peak to peak, sometimes downhill, others up".

"There is no doubt that the road of European integration is currently crossing mountainous terrain, and the path is uphill all the way towards compromise," the paper says.

Those waiting to join the Union are not looking for charity, it points out. It hopes that "the political message of the process of enlargement will not be formulated in a spirit of unbridled benevolence and graciousness".

It should instead be proffered as "an opportunity for us on the other side of the Schengen curtain to join the developed countries in their Union".

"We shall be able to consider this as a kind of historic amends," the paper concludes.

The European press review is compiled by BBC Monitoring from internet editions of the main European newspapers and some early printed editions.

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