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Last Updated: Friday, 6 May, 2005, 10:31 GMT 11:31 UK
European press review

The outcome of the general election in the United Kingdom was still a few hours away as Europe's papers went to press, but they found plenty to say about the implications of the expected Labour victory.

While Prime Minister Tony Blair remains the centre of attention, some papers can't resist peering into the future and imagining Chancellor Gordon Brown moving into No 10.

No sign of Europe

"Europe was the great absentee from the British election campaign," France's Le Monde points out.

British politicians, the paper argues, have reached a tacit agreement "not to start the battle of Europe until the time is right".

"This truce is all the more ironic," it says, "since Europe is one of the very few subjects on which the two main parties have very contrasting views."

Labour's good economic and social record will have worked in its favour
Le Figaro

"The silence over Europe betrays a lack of confidence on the part of the main players," the paper concludes.

A Union Jack adorns the front page of another French daily, Liberation, which is already setting its sights on a post-Blair era.

The prime minister, it predicts, will from now on be "warming the seat for Labour's new star, Gordon Brown".

Where Mr Blair has failed, the paper maintains, is "in his ambition to place Britain at the heart of Europe" while maintaining a "special relationship" with the US.

"With or without Blair," it wryly observes, "Europe will remain isolated from Britain for a while yet."

But it says London is today at its most dynamic since the days of punk rock, in terms of art, architecture and cultural energy, according to one French designer quoted by the paper.

The prosperity of "the Blair years" was "the source of yet another of those bursts of energy in Britain, which periodically give the mainland an electric shock".

Labour's election hopes, argues Le Figaro, were jeopardised by "a legion of undecided voters" and fears of a low turnout.

"But in the absence of a real alternative," the paper says, "Labour's good economic and social record will have worked in its favour with an electorate concerned above all with matters of health, education and security."

But the paper warns, Mr Blair knows his image has been dented, and that a reduced majority at the polls could at some stage lead to his resignation in favour of his greatest friend and rival - the star of Labour's campaign, Gordon Brown.

Third-term predictions

Most German newspapers restrict themselves to factual reports on the elections, but some elaborate on the various scenarios laid out by opinion polls.

The Berliner Zeitung carries a cartoon showing a clockwork Tony Blair marching through a ballot box, clutching a marked ballot paper.

"Wound up and marched through," reads the caption.

Under the headline "Blair already planning new cabinet", the Frankfurter Rundschau says it has learnt from "well-informed sources" that Mr Blair and his advisers spent part of polling day working on a cabinet reshuffle, to be announced on Friday.

The paper predicts a return to government for David Blunkett, the former home secretary forced to resign over a visa application scandal in December 2004.

But in Austria, Die Presse's gaze is already trained on Mr Brown, a "prime minister-in-waiting with a temper".

The chancellor is, the paper believes, "Britain's most popular politician", despite being known as "a sober and steely politician, notorious for his fits of rage".

Britons, it adds, will place greater trust in a Labour government led by Mr Brown, despite the stark contrast with "the charming Tony Blair and his boyish smile".

Paying the price

For Switzerland's Tribune de Geneve, the prime minister remains a "shrewd politician and formidable speaker", and was "the best communicator throughout the campaign".

But the paper expects a referendum on the EU constitution, scheduled for 2006, to leave him with "a very rough job" winning over voters.

The prime minister knows his image has been dented
El Periodico

And so if France rejects the treaty in its own vote at the end of May, it adds, "this could be a weight off Tony's shoulders".

Spain's El Periodico says Mr Blair has been able to rely on the state of the British economy to help him overcome "the burden of the protest vote".

"The contrast between the dynamism of the British economy and the doldrums in the rest of the EU," it observes, "spared Tony Blair a high price for the credibility he lost... justifying the war.

"But the prime minister knows his image has been dented," the paper adds.

It too expects Mr Blair to resign, sooner or later, "in favour of his greatest friend, greatest rival and star of the campaign, Gordon Brown."

'Top manager'

"For any citizen in a democratic country," says Russia's Kommersant, "a representative of power... is just an executive, with whom society concludes a contract for a set of services."

On that basis, it explains, the people of Britain simply want their prime minister to be a good manager.

"And so it seems," the paper believes, "that the time to replace the top manager has not yet arrived: Tony Blair's government is coping just fine with the bread-and-butter problems facing the average British citizen."

But Rossiyskaya Gazeta is simply thankful for small mercies.

"Election campaigns in Britain are good," it argues, "because, first of all, they are brief, and secondly, they are relatively cheap."

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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