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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 January, 2005, 05:18 GMT
European press review

With world and regional leaders meeting in Indonesia to discuss their response to the Asian tsunami disaster, papers in Germany and France attempt to gauge just how much aid is required.

A Spanish paper offers a cautious welcome as the government in Madrid sums up the past year's anti-terror operations, while a French daily puts President Jacques Chirac's pledge to secure equal pay for women into perspective.

And a Finnish paper greets the 10th anniversary of the country's entry into the European Union.

Too much aid...?

Papers in Germany are divided over Berlin's decision to commit $674m in aid in the wake of the Asian tsunami disaster.

Frankfurter Rundschau dismisses claims that purely political considerations prompted the German government to make a pledge of this size.

Such allegations, it says, are "unfair and cynical".

"Conversely," the paper adds, "the stingiest government would then have to be seen as the most honourable one."

But there is one argument, it maintains, that should take precedence over all others.

Those who are giving are helping to alleviate the inconceivable misery in the region
Berliner Zeitung

"Millions of people urgently waiting for help and a future do not want to know whether the drinking water from their new water treatment facility is flowing as a result of personal or political... ulterior motives."

The Berliner Zeitung also backs the government over the issue.

"Those who are giving are helping to alleviate the inconceivable misery in the region," the paper insists, adding that donating money is a way of showing humanity.

"In this sense," it says, "we should be glad about our willingness to make donations, and praise the government for giving so much as well."

But Die Welt believes the authorities in Berlin have gone too far.

"The government was certainly right to increase its pledges, which were modest to begin with," the paper says.

"But was it necessary," it asks, "immediately to bring figures into play which give the impression that nations are engaged in a rather selfish donors' competition?"

Die Tageszeitung also has reservations.

"By now, everything almost seems to be one size too big," the paper says.

It believes the same could also be said of the three minutes' silence marked across Europe on Wednesday in memory of the disaster's victims.

"Even when it came to mourning," the paper adds, "one minute yesterday was no longer enough, it had to be three."

... or not enough?

As far as the editor of France's Le Nouvel Observateur is concerned, however, there is no such thing as too much aid.

Jean Daniel is unhappy with a decision by the French-based humanitarian agency Medecins Sans Frontieres to ask the public to stop sending donations because it already has all the money it needs for its response to the tsunami disaster.

MSF's announcement, he says, "bears witness to its honesty and rigour", but it is also "likely to break the momentum" of the aid effort.

And the agency's failure to recommend other NGOs for donations, he adds, "seems like a judgment of those organisations" and "casts aspersions on the way in which they use the funds".

As "an admirer" of MSF, Mr Daniel concludes, "I am saddened, indeed, appalled, and I demand an explanation".

Spain tackles terror

Spanish Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso on Wednesday reported on his government's efforts to combat the threat posed by Basque and Islamic radicals.

Alonso... can count on the public's understanding in the difficult fight against this new terrorist scourge
El Periodico

"Eta committed no assassinations last year, even though it intended do," notes Barcelona's El Periodico, adding that around 100 of the Basque separatist group's members were arrested with the help of the French authorities.

"These facts give grounds for hope," it says, but this optimism "should not be allowed to conceal the scepticism of anti-terror experts about Eta violence being at an end".

The paper also highlights Mr Alonso's "extensive reference to the fight against Islamist terrorism" following the 11 March attacks in Madrid.

"Alonso," it concludes, "can count on the public's understanding in the difficult fight against this new terrorist scourge."

Battle for equal pay

French President Jacques Chirac pledged on Tuesday that his government would move fast to present a bill designed to achieve equal pay for women within five years.

"Were that to come about," says French daily Le Monde, "it would amount to a veritable social revolution."

A French woman, it points out, currently earns around 11% less than a man in the same job boasting the same qualifications.

However, a series of three laws adopted over the past 35 years already exists to combat this sort of discrimination.

The problem, the paper explains, is that these laws "are poorly implemented or not implemented at all".

Of course, Mr Chirac deserves to be congratulated, it concedes, because "gender discrimination is unacceptable".

But the paper ends on a note of caution.

"On the strength of past experience," it warns, "one might wonder if yet another law will prove more useful to women than the previous ones."

Finland's European decade

Finland's Swedish-language daily Hufvudstadsbladet points out that Finland, Sweden and Austria all chalked up 10 years as members of the European Union at the turn of the year.

When Finland gave up its sovereignty, we got something else instead. We became part of an integrated Western Europe and now Europe

And although this landmark was overshadowed by events in Asia, the paper says there are those in Finland who would not have celebrated in any case.

"They feel that Finland lost its independence on 1 January 1995," it explains.

The paper maintains, however, that although the country did indeed yield some of its sovereignty, "you have to wonder whether any state in the modern world could claim to be totally independent".

Moreover, "when Finland gave up its sovereignty, we got something else instead. We became part of an integrated Western Europe and now Europe."

In short, the paper concludes, the benefits are clear.

"Finland's position in Europe has been strengthened."

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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