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Thursday, 7 February, 2002, 07:57 GMT
European press review

On Queen Elizabeth's golden jubilee, most papers note a changing perception of the British monarchy among her subjects, but none questions the affection in which the Queen herself is held by most.

Germany's high unemployment is seen as bad news for a chancellor who asked to be judged on his ability to create jobs.

A British paper sees a special relationship emerging between Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi.

And a Russian entrepreneur claims a direct line to the Almighty.

Jubilee

As Queen Elizabeth II clocks up 50 years on the throne, France's leading daily Le Monde says the British monarchy is "threatened with indifference".

In an editorial, the paper contrasts the deference shown towards royalty in the past - an example being the way in which cinema audiences used to stand to attention for God Save the Queen - with the lack of interest prevalent today.

However, "the great majority of her subjects feel respect and even affection for their Queen. Their recognize her qualities: sangfroid, strength of character, sense of duty", it notes.

At the same time, "most Britons criticize Elizabeth II for being out of touch with their concerns".

Vienna's Kurier sees the Queen's reign as "a lonely stretch of sentry duty".

"With only 3% of Britons still keenly interested in stories about the Royal family," the paper says, "Elizabeth is being made to realize that her subjects are becoming increasingly indifferent to the monarchy."

The Swiss Le Temps says that the respect the Queen has "earned" from her subjects through the 50 years of her reign so far, is "at odds" with the "severe judgment" some pass on "her family".

The paper wonders whether the British monarch will "hold on for another 14 years to beat Queen Victoria's record". Her subjects, it notes, "don't want her to abdicate", "even though they believe Charles will make a good king".

"The golden jubilee has so far been received with indifference," the paper believes, "but Elizabeth II can relish her final, intangible, and perhaps most precious achievement: the fact that she will always stand as the symbol of the love Britons nurture for their country."

On the dole

"Schroeder loses his bet on unemployment", says the French Le Figaro of the news that Germany's unemployed have passed the four million mark.

Chancellor Schroeder's hope to cut unemployment to below 3.5 million before the September elections "has definitely been shattered", the paper says.

"This is bad news for a chancellor who since 1998 has been asking to be judged on employment," it points out.

Le Monde also sees the new figures as "unwelcome news" in what it calls "a week of living dangerously" for the German chancellor.

At the moment, the paper says, he "has no room for manoeuvre, and so is unable to take any action to reverse the trend". And this, it adds, "might cost him dear at the polls".

In Germany, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung speaks of "the politically perilous threshold" of the four million mark, and points out that the announcement of the new jobless total "was made against the backdrop of a federal audit that showed that the labour office had placed far fewer applicants in jobs than it claimed".

The Berliner Zeitung calls the audit's findings a "scandal" and the key to what is wrong with German employment policies.

It is convinced that a change of direction is overdue not just because the office fiddled the figures but because its placement practices ignore the changes in the job market.

"The Germans are becoming more flexible, and employers and trade unions are reacting to this, for example, by introducing new working time systems," the paper says.

"The employment office seems to be the only place where this trend has as yet gone unnoticed," it adds.

But the Frankfurter Rundschau sees the number of people out of work as the real scandal, and does not think much of the political storm over what it calls the "mini-scandal" of the employment office's doctored figures.

However, "the chances of politicians having to resign over mini-scandals are remarkably great these days," it says, "whereas when it comes to real scandals they can just sit them out."

When in Rome...

Looking ahead to Rome's Anglo-Italian summit in just over a week's time, Britain's Independent says that Prime Minister Tony Blair "is forging a close alliance" with his Italian opposite number, Silvio Berlusconi, and "plans to seal the Anglo-Italian axis with an agreement on economic policy next week".

According to the paper, the summit's joint declaration "will promote a new UK-Italy trade agreement and call for labour market reform within the European Union". It is also expected to "demand that European countries agree, by the end of the year, to set a date in the near future for the liberalisation of commercial energy supplies".

As the paper sees it, Mr Blair "is now going out of his way to stress common ground with his Italian counterpart, in contrast to other European leaders who have kept their distance".

Cracks in the coalition?

A report in the Paris-based International Herald Tribune says that "frustration with President George W. Bush's world view burst into the open" in Paris on Wednesday when Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine "openly criticized Washington's approach to terrorism as 'simplistic'" in a radio interview.

Many European leaders, the paper notes, "are drawing a sharp distinction between attacks on Afghanistan, justified as self-defence", and "attacks on other countries like Iraq or Iran and North Korea" which Mr Bush dubbed "part of an 'axis of evil' that threatened the world".

Even Britain's Tony Blair, it adds, "has cautioned against any military strike against Iraq unless a clear connection is found between Baghdad and the 11 September attacks".

Ex-directory

An unusual scheme for getting members of the public to part with their money attracts the attention of the leading Russian daily Izvestiya.

An enterprising man in the city of Kursk has been advertising a special telephone number in the local papers, promising people direct access to God.

For a fee, the paper says, all their "complaints and expressions of thanks" are recorded on an answering machine, after which "the inventor switches on a powerful transmitter and beams the collected messages to the heavens".

It adds that those who have availed themselves of the service have yet to receive an answer, but it may be forthcoming in the near future for an extra charge.

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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