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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 April, 2004, 03:57 GMT 04:57 UK
European press review

Europe's papers largely agree British Prime Minister Tony Blair is gambling with Europe's future by opting for a referendum on the new EU constitution, and many editorials examine whether the US-led coalition in Iraq will hold together.

Referendum on Europe

"Blair's European gamble" is how the French Le Figaro headlines its lead story, with a photo of Mr Blair delivering "a very combative speech".

"By reversing the position he had always maintained, Tony Blair has performed an about-turn that could prove heavy with consequences for the construction of Europe."

"This is the most dangerous of political gambles, because the result of such a referendum is far from a foregone conclusion, not just for Britain but for the other EU states risking being obliged to follow suit."

France's Le Monde notes a referendum "is a big risk for Labour" and "the very prospect of it is already dividing European leaders."

One must seriously fear for the project of a European constitution
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

"The referendum, long demanded by the Conservatives... may end up working in Tony Blair's favour," depriving his adversaries "of a major campaign trump".

The Swiss daily Le Temps calls Mr Blair's change of heart "a defeat which Tony Blair wants to turn into a victory".

"With most of the public and the press in a Eurosceptic frame of mind and his credibility singed by the hot ashes of the Iraq conflict, Tony Blair is taking a huge gamble."

Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung criticises him for giving in to "the populism of the Eurosceptics" in a bid to survive.

"For a politician this is neither unusual nor unethical, but for a statesman it is somewhat on the pathetic side."

The paper notes that Mr Blair reiterated that Britain should be at the heart of Europe. "But at the same time, the prime minister added so many reservations that one must seriously fear for the project of a European constitution."

For Austria's Die Presse, "his decision to allow the British to vote on the EU constitution marks the end of Blair's vision of moving Britain into the heart of Europe," fearing "Europe will be destroyed."

Coalition in Iraq

The Vatican's L'Osservatore Romano argues that Spain's withdrawal from Iraq might precipitate "a kind of domino effect".

"The next domino in the war coalition is wobbling," echoes Germany's Die Welt, saying Poland has a problem handing over command of the multinational division to the soon-to-be-gone Spanish.

The next domino in the war coalition is wobbling
Die Welt

According to Sueddeutsche Zeitung, "the coalition of the willing might mutate into a club of the willing to leave."

"We are not sending more soldiers to Iraq," Bulgaria's 24 Chassa, Novinar and Monitor say on their front pages, citing a statement by Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha that Spain's pullout will not mean more Bulgarian troops sent.

"US Secretary of State Colin Powell praises us for staying in Iraq," Bulgaria's Troud says of a telephone conversation between Foreign Minister Solomon Passy and Mr Powell. "Americans thank us for our solidarity," declares Monitor.

Prague's Lidove Noviny raises questions about the release of three Czech journalists held hostage in Iraq for nearly a week.

The government, it says, has declined to comment on an al-Jazeera TV report that money exchanged hands. "So where's the truth?" the paper asks.

"The media alchemists at the Foreign Ministry want us to believe the fairytale about the release being prompted by... local Sunni leaders being moved by a message from Czech Muslims on the hostages' behalf."

Berlusconi in Moscow

Russia's Krasnaya Zvezda sets Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's visit to Moscow in the context of his country's present difficulties in Iraq.

Berlusconi melts the cool approach of the West Europeans with his Italian temperament
Krasnaya Zvezda

"Against the background of recent events, the subject of terrorism remains one of the crucial ones in the Russian-Italian political dialogue."

"The shooting of the one of the four Italian hostages in Iraq shocked the country. The Italian leadership is doing its utmost to secure the release of the others. Naturally, it counts on the assistance of Moscow, which is popular with Iraqis."

The Defence Ministry newspaper paper thoroughly approves of Mr Berlusconi's manner towards Russia.

"The Italian prime minister is a champion of closer relations, melting the cool approach of the West Europeans with his Italian temperament."

Move over, athletes

Moscow's Novyye Izvestiya observes that a large proportion of the cabins aboard the super-liner Westerdam, where the "Russian village" will be located during the Athens Olympics, will be occupied by high-ranking officials and their close relatives.

Under the headline "How deputies relax", it says "officials from the Moscow mayor's office, several members of the government, State Duma deputies and the governors of Belgorod and Saratov regions, Krasnoyarsk Territory and the Republic of Yakutia have already booked accommodation and obtained Olympic packages".

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




SEE ALSO:
The press in Germany
23 Mar 04  |  Europe
The press in Russia
01 Apr 04  |  Europe
The press in France
12 Apr 04  |  Europe


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