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European Press Review: Cautious Optimism for Middle East

European newspapers on Tuesday turned their attention to the Middle East peace plan, which after a breakthrough cease-fire over the weekend actually seems like it might become a reality.


Israel began withdrawing forces from the Gaza Strip this weekend as part of the road map to peace.

The Swiss daily Basler Zeitung was cautiously optimistic about what it called a faint new glimmer of hope for peace in the Middle East. Welcome though the cease-fire and other progress may be, the paper wrote, in the second phase of the road map, landmark decisions will have to soon be taken, and it doubted that the two sides were willing to take those steps.

Britain’s Financial Times called the three-month cease-fire by Palestinian militants an important first step and a boost for Palestinian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas. However, the paper cautioned, with the Palestinian groups attaching a list of demands to their cessation of violence and Israel still far from unconditionally committed to the road map, there are still only faint hopes that the deal will be long-lasting.

The Luxemburger Wort compared the situation in the Middle East to that in Northern Ireland, and pointed out that every step from one side required an equal response from the other. It is necessary that those who want peace assert themselves over the hardliners in their own camp, the paper said. It referred to the temporary end to violence as a start at best, and added there will be setbacks, but at least it is both an unexpected and positive signal.

Several European papers expressed unease over the prospect of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi taking up the EU presidency for six months starting July 1..

France’s Le Figaro said July 1 marks the start of "the European test" of the Italian prime minister. According to the paper, the criticism of Berlusconi ahead of Italy's EU presidency reflects the concern of certain governments about his concept of Europe.

Another French daily Liberation, wrote that Berlusconi represents a threat to what it calls the "legitimacy of a liberal democracy" and said the Italian leader poses "a danger for Europe."

Denmark’s Information viewed the handover from Greece to Italy as an argument against the six-month rotating EU presidency. It described Berlusconi as the "exact opposite" of all that is enshrined in European democracy.

However, some European papers were cautiously optimistic about the future of the EU under Italy’s presidency. The London Times argued that as a convinced Atlanticist with good ties to U.S. President George W. Bush, Berlusconi is well-placed to do some transatlantic fence-mending.

Switzerland’s Le Temps was confident that Berlusconi's term would not be marred by scandals, saying given the Italian’s weak position in Europe, he is unlikely to rock the boat.

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