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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 April, 2005, 04:38 GMT 05:38 UK
European press review

In France, tension is mounting as President Jacques Chirac prepares to revive the faltering Yes campaign for the EU constitution at a TV debate on Thursday.

Showtime for Mr Chirac

Le Monde believes the No camp's consistent lead in the polls makes Mr Chirac's TV performance "vital" for the constitution's survival - and perhaps the president's as well.

"Having chosen to consult the French," the paper warns, "he must now convince them."

Mr Chirac has "placed himself in the line of fire", the daily adds, and wonders what lies in store for him should the No vote carry the day. "Should he resign?," it asks.

In fact, Liberation believes, Mr Chirac should not wait until after the vote.

"A single word" from Jacques Chirac this evening "will ensure a referendum victory for the Yes camp," the paper says.

All he has to do is to answer Yes himself if asked whether he will resign if the French accept the constitution, it suggests, adding that left-wing voters would be won over immediately.

"He would earn himself a place in the history books... [as] the man who sacrificed himself to make Europe triumph".

And there could be bad news for Mr Chirac from his old ally Germany, where Die Welt reports that some opposition-controlled states may stall approval of the constitution in the upper house of parliament it they are not given a bigger say on European issues.

"The smooth and speedy ratification of the European Constitution in Germany is threatened," the paper warns, adding that this could dash hopes of sending a positive signal ahead of the French referendum.

Milestone or millstone?

The European Parliament's decision to allow Bulgaria and Romania to join the European Union in 2007 elicits a warm response in early editions of the two countries' papers.

"Bulgaria crosses the Rubicon to Europe" says a headline in Bulgaria's Duma, while Romania's Adevarul sees the decision as "a milestone on the road to Brussels".

But Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung is less happy with the news, arguing that Romania in particular threatens to become a "millstone around Europe's neck".

The country "is high up on the international corruption scale, with bribery as rampant as in Senegal or the Dominican Republic," the papers sniffs.

This, it adds, "does not make it a good place for the 40 billion euros' worth of subsidies coming the two new entrants' way over the next few years."

Could do better?

With Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero marking the first anniversary of his government later this week, the papers' verdict on one year of Socialist rule is unenthusiastic.

El Mundo speaks of "a year of lights and shadows", before adding that the polls suggest the Spanish appear to be looking on the bright side.

But it also has stark warning over the government's policy towards Basque separatists.

"The concessions made by Zapatero to the nationalists," it believes, "are an onerous letter of credit which the government will have to pay for the rest of its term, and the cost might have catastrophic consequences for this country of ours."

ABC takes an even dimmer view of the government's performance, seeing "more areas of darkness than light".

Mr Zapatero's government, it believes, "turned out in practice to amount to plenty of smiles and very little action" and has had the "the least capacity for legislative initiatives in the past 25 years".

"But it must be recognized," it adds, that this flaw "has not had much of an impact on public opinion."

La Razon is also unimpressed, arguing that "a certain amateurishness is noticeable" in Mr Zapatero's cabinet.

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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