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Last Updated: Monday, 14 April, 2003, 05:02 GMT 06:02 UK
European Press Review

The low turnout in Hungary's European Union membership referendum has caused concern, the German Government is criticized for its handling of economic reform, Leipzig receives a boost in its Olympic bid, and "Shock and Awe" acquires commercial cachet.

A poor showing

The Hungarian press tries to find the reasons and apportion blame for the low turnout in Saturday's referendum, which gave the necessary backing for EU membership.

Magyar Hirlap says the success of the referendum "left a bitter aftertaste", with more than half of the electorate staying away from the voting booths.

The government campaign, it says, "did not stress sufficiently the importance of participation and the danger of invalidation, but only urged a yes vote, which to many was a foregone conclusion".

The article warns that the low turnout could cause a headache for Brussels and the candidate countries still due to hold referendums.

"This is why the EU capital did not receive the result of the Hungarian referendum with a standing ovation," it says.

"The Hungarian indifference could be a bad omen for the Polish and Baltic referendums, where strict thresholds are prescribed," the paper concludes.

Another Hungarian daily, Nepszabadsag, close to the ruling Socialist Party, puts some of the blame on the opposition.

"Who would want to rush to a wedding about which the best man announces that the entwining hands are only holding on to each other for the promise of the dowry?" it asks.

Austria's Der Standard describes the low turnout as "a nasty surprise" for the government.

"Things could have gone badly wrong," the paper says, pointing out that if fewer than 25% of all registered voters had voted in favour, the poll would have been invalid.

Better late than never?

Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung interprets Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's decision to call a special Social Democratic Party conference to approve his economic reform plans as an admission of defeat.

The paper says the chancellor had "no choice" in the face of mounting opposition to his plans in his own party.

According to the paper, a special party conference is "the lesser evil" compared with a referendum on the issue among party members which is being sought by left-wing critics of the proposals.
Special party conference is lesser evil
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

"It would have been too good to be true," it says, "if Schroeder had been able to demonstrate that the SPD has not only come to accept, without grumbling, what needs to be done but is also only at the beginning of its German centre path, in accordance with the idea that social democracy can only be saved by a strong Social Democratic movement."

Berlin's Der Tagesspiegel agrees that the decision to call a special party conference has come late in the day.

"For an astonishingly long period of time the chancellor's office and the SPD leadership have shown little sensitivity to the discontent to which they have now been forced to yield," the paper believes.

But it is also critical of the timing of the left-wing rebellion, arguing that today more is at stake than just social and economic reform.

"The issue has long since become one of demonstrating an ability to act, of the chancellor's authority," it says.

An Olympian effort

Berlin's Die Welt says the choice of Leipzig as Germany's candidate city for the Olympic Games 2012 is well-deserved.

The paper acknowledges that some people, "spoilsports" it calls them, may complain that the city won't stand a chance against competitors such as Madrid, Paris or New York.

"But the fact is," it says, "that Leipzig attracted votes as a result of an incredible amount of dedication, imagination and commitment."

The paper urges the rest of the country to rally behind a nomination which should not be seen as what it calls "a social-therapeutic gesture".
Leipzig nomination not theraputic gesture
Die Welt

The Berliner Zeitung agrees. The paper denies that the choice of Leipzig is a show of solidarity on the part of former West Germany with former East Germany.

"Leipzig won quite simply as a result of its ambitious concept for the Olympics and its superb presentation of that concept," it says, adding that it would be wrong to write the city off against strong international competition.

Shock value

The Paris daily Le Figaro says the inventor of the term "Shock and Awe" would now be a millionaire if employed in advertising.

It reports that the US Marks and Brands Office has received 15 applications to use the phrase, from - among others - firms selling pesticides, washing-up liquid and underwear.

The paper adds it would be a pity if the name were awarded to the first applicant, Sony, for its video war game.

"A slogan too close to the product kills it. Shock and Awe on a console where you massacre the enemy with napalm... trivializes the subject," it observes.

"Whereas printed across a pair of swimming trunks, the term becomes far more surprising and full of promise."

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

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


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