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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 June, 2005, 07:45 GMT 08:45 UK
European press review

As negotiations on the EU budget come to a head, there is a sense of anticipation in the European press at the forthcoming Brussels summit.

The Catholic Church receives both condemnation and praise for its part in Italy's invalid fertility referendum.

Budget storm brewing

Britain's defence of its annual rebate and France's support for farming subsidies are seen by several papers to be two sides of the same coin.

Germany's Die Welt believes that both the UK rebate and the Common Agricultural Policy are in need of reform.

"The fact that this rebate still exists is one of Europe's anachronisms, as is the agricultural policy," the paper says.

But it fears that no agreement will be reached at this week's EU summit.

Sweden's Sydsvenska Dagbladet rubs its hands in anticipation of "a first-class bust-up" over the budget, with this week's summit "threatening to be the stormiest for a long time".

The paper says that the British rebate "may seem small potatoes" considering the scale of the Union's proposed budget, but that many are still riled by the fact the British have retained their special funding, which was first negotiated in 1984, despite major economic progress.

The EU's historic ability to function as a consensus machine will be working overtime on Thursday and Friday
Information

The paper approves of UK Prime Minister Tony Blair's strategy of linking the rebate to the Common Agricultural Policy, adding that it is "hardly surprising" that Mr Blair's proposals have not been welcomed in Paris.

"President Chirac has been severely ruffled by the ignominious defeat in the recent referendum," the paper says. "He has neither the courage nor the strength to challenge the powerful French farming lobby with proposals which might mean less support and subsidies from the EU.

"Instead he is attempting to regain the political initiative by portraying the British as the root of all the EU's problems," it continues.

"This is neither elegant nor constructive. But it is very French", the daily concludes.

EU meetings are nearly always tense whether there is an EU crisis or not
Le Temps

Denmark's Information believes that "the EU's historic ability to function as a consensus machine will be working overtime on Thursday and Friday".

"The prospects are not favourable. But it would be hasty to conclude that the battle has been lost.

"The pessimists are overlooking the fact that EU meltdown carries enormous political risks. Risks much more serious for the whole EU than blockaded French country roads and smelly piles of cabbages outside the Elysee Palace or a united frontal attack on Tony Blair by the British tabloid press", it says.

Switzerland's Le Temps reminds its readers that EU meetings are nearly always tense, "whether there is an EU crisis or not".

However, many believe that a favourable settlement to the current budget crisis is - as the paper puts it - "the only way to demonstrate that despite everything, Europe is continuing to move forward".

Italian idleness?

Germany's Berliner Zeitung says several factors combined to keep the turnout in a recent Italian referendum under the 50% threshold required for it to be valid.

The paper believes voter apathy, the influence of the Catholic Church, and the complexity of the issue all played a part in invalidating the vote on relaxing Italy's strict fertility laws.

"After all, who has a definite answer to questions such as when life begins?," it asks, "whether embryos are people, whether embryos may be used for research?"

The Catholic Church comes in for particular criticism for trying "to impede the emancipation of citizens," by choosing the "categorical" slogan that life should not be the subject of a vote.

The Geneva-based daily La Tribune says there is nothing new in the Church's opposition to changes in the law on fertility treatment.

Idleness rather than engagement - is this the message the new Pope wants to send out?
La Tribune

Also blaming the Church for the low turnout, the paper argues that "it is not its job to advocate that Italians abandon their civic duty by urging them, not to vote against the bill, but not to vote at all."

The paper concludes that whereas in Iraq, people braved terrorism and bombs in order to vote, the Catholic hierarchy is advising the faithful to boycott the ballot boxes.

"Idleness rather than engagement," the paper concludes, "Is this the message the new Pope wants to send out?"

Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says however that left-wing advocates of change may have been impressed by Pope Benedict XVI's arguments.

The paper suggests that the Pope's warning against a "dictatorship of relativism... got under the skin" of "left-wing liberals".

"Suddenly many people are sitting up and taking notice, and they think to themselves that the Pope may be right, even independently of the authority of his office," it says.

Unsurprised by the poor turnout, Austria's Der Standard gives its own straightforward explanation:

"As was to be expected," it adds, "the Italians, tired of voting, preferred to go to the seaside rather than grapple with difficult bioethical issues."

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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