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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 December, 2003, 04:28 GMT
European press review

European papers examine the inclusion of a far-right politician in the Swiss cabinet, and the implications of a left-wing government in Spain's Catalonia region.

They also react to the US decision to exclude countries which opposed the Iraq war from reconstruction contracts.

Swiss controversy

Germany's Die Welt rejects the ideas of Christoph Blocher, the controversial People's Party politician who was elected to the Swiss cabinet on Wednesday, but suggests he could liven up Swiss politics.

The paper describes his policies as "xenophobic, anti-European and isolationist", but "liberal and open" in the field of economic policy.

It says he is a fascinating figure because he embodies Swiss contradictions.

Blocher is a nationalist conservative chauvinist who tolerates neo-Nazis on the lists of his Swiss People's Party and had no objections to electoral posters in which foreign criminals knife honest Swiss citizens
Der Standard

"This may liven up politics in Switzerland and need not harm the country, since he is an experienced power politician," the paper believes.

But Germany's Die Tageszeitung is convinced that Christoph Blocher does not fit into the country's traditional system of consensus.

"Blocher is not the right type of person for this," the paper says.

"Even if the self-made billionaire only takes over the Finance Ministry, he will be destructive in all fields which are important to him," it warns.

Germany's Frankfurter Rundschau does not rule out conflicts in the government in the short term but believes that there is an alternative outcome.

"Namely," the paper says, "that he will either soften his language or... dig his own political grave."

Austria's Die Presse sees nothing wrong with Mr Blocher's entry into the government.

"This is because either Blocher will do good work in the post allocated to him from January, or he will be exposed as a big mouth even to his most faithful supporters," the paper says.

Austria's Der Standard, on the other hand, is scathing in its verdict on the controversial politician.

According to the paper, right-wing populists in neighbouring countries have a lot to learn from Christoph Blocher when it comes to what the paper calls "politicised vileness and contempt for mankind".

"Blocher is a nationalist conservative chauvinist," the paper says, "who tolerates neo-Nazis on the lists of his Swiss People's Party and had no objections to electoral posters in which foreign criminals knife honest Swiss citizens."

Switzerland's own Tribune De Geneve believes the image which encapsulates Wednesday's events is that of dethroned centre-right Christian Democratic Party minister Ruth Metzler.

Metzler, the paper says, was "on the verge of tears" while addressing the Federal Assembly.

It says she personally paid the price for her party's mistakes, losing her seat despite its efforts to hang on to its two government seats right until the end.

The paper sees Mr Blocher's inclusion in the government as having a positive side, in that the People's Party "can no longer present itself as an eternal political victim" and "will now have to bear its share of responsibility for the government's action".

Dawning of a new era

After the socialist Pasqual Maragall was charged with forming a new government in Spain's Catalonia region, the press assesses the implications.

This change in the regional government is a positive element that will strengthen democracy and the institutions of self-government
El Periodico

The Barcelona daily El Periodico welcomes the event, which comes after a period of intense horse-trading following the elections in November.

"A phase of political and social renewal full of challenges begins," the paper effuses.

"This change in the regional government, postponed for so long, is in itself a positive element that will strengthen democracy and the institutions of self-government," it adds.

Madrid's La Razon criticises Mr Maragall, and by extension the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE), for their alliance with two more radical left-wing parties .

Doing so purely to defeat the outgoing Catalan nationalists and Spain's governing Popular Party (PP) will have consequences, says the paper.

"Especially when the one guilty of such a contemptible policy is a veteran party like the PSOE, which is finding it ever harder to persuade its voters that it has a serious and responsible project to replace the PP in the government of Spain," it says.

Another Madrid daily, El Mundo, looks at the prospects for Convergence and Union (CiU), the coalition of outgoing Premier Jordi Pujol - who dominated the Catalan political landscape, remaining in power for 23 years.

"Without Jordi Pujol and with a long period in the wilderness ahead of it, the cohesion of CiU will undergo a tough ordeal," the paper predicts.

It warns CiU's current leaders, Artur Mas and Josep Antoni Duran Lleida, that opposition wears politicians down much more than power.

"CiU may be an example of that, if Mas and Duran Lleida do not get things right in reformulating the project that will allow them to win back the Catalan regional government in four years' time," it says.

Crossed off the list

Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung says the US decision to exclude countries opposed to the war in Iraq from reconstruction contracts is an example of "national chauvinism".

It is childish to reject the war but to be offended when afterwards no profit is to be made from reconstruction
Der Tagesspiegel

The paper is unimpressed by the fact that Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz cited security reasons to justify the move.

"He did not wish to explain which security interests might be violated if a German civil engineering company sinks wells," it says.

Germany's Der Tagesspiegel, on the other hand, defends the decision.

"War is a matter of life and death," the paper points out.

It suggests that the nationality of those who die is an important issue which is relevant to politics.

"It is childish to reject the war but to be offended when afterwards no profit is to be made from reconstruction," it argues.

"Warrior's List of the Faithful" is how a headline in the Czech paper Lidove Noviny describes America's choice of countries to include in reconstruction.

The Wolfowitz directive can only give rise to incomprehension in Moscow, Paris and Berlin
Nezavisimaya Gazeta

"Paul Wolfowitz", says the paper, "has now used the list as a big heap of carrots to compensate the allies of that period for their anxiety and their domestic political hardship."

By citing US national interests as the reason for limiting access to the contracts, Wolfowitz, the paper says, "gave the countries he had excluded a slap in the face".

It says the aim might not be punishment so much as to see "dissatisfied French companies forcing Paris to cooperate more closely with the USA in Iraq".

"The Wolfowitz directive," says Russia's Nezavisimaya Gazeta, "can only give rise to incomprehension in Moscow, Paris and Berlin, who were at the head of the anti-war camp."

"Many US politicians are concerned... that too many states will view the move as a slap in the face," it warns.

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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