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Europe

European Press Review: Don't Spy on Friends

On Friday, many European newspapers focused on German Chancellor Schröder's American visit and the allegations that British intelligence agencies spied on the United Nations.

Britain's Financial Times write that it was difficult not to feel sorry for German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. On the eve of his meeting with U.S. President George Bush he made his concern about the euro-dollar exchange rate clear. But the paper said chances were zero that Bush would take action in response to his complaints. In light of the strong euro versus the weak dollar, the paper suggested one solution might be for the European Central Bank to cut interest rates, which would help Germany's ailing economy, but pointed out that if the bank intends to make such a move it should take the whole of the euro-zone into account.

Germany's Frankfurter Rundschau wondered how the coming U.S. presidential election would weigh on relations between Berlin and Washington more than it reflected on the meeting between Schröder and Bush. One thing that emerged clearly from the Iraq dispute, the paper claimed, was that now, 15 years after the Cold War, the United States and Germany need to come to terms with a new state of normality in which they are less dependent on each other. The German government would no longer follow the United States blindly, it wrote.

Britain's The Guardian said few would dispute Prime Minister Tony Blair's statement in his monthly news conference, that in the era of global terror, the work of the intelligence agencies is more important than ever. It is, however, less obvious that to question that premise is to compromise it. The paper emphasized that both Clare Short's allegations that Britain spied on UN head Kofi Annan and Katharine Gun's earlier leaking of an American request to Britain to eavesdrop on the six "swing" nations on the UN security council in the run-up to the Iraq war, underlined the fact that a level of reassurance is needed that the intelligence agencies are acting within the law. That is lacking at the moment, the Guardian said.

Clare Short's words had the effect of a bomb but a lot still hangs on the reaction of the press and the public's opinion, observed Rome's La Repubblica. Would the public find the secret services were right to act how they wanted? Or, the paper asked, would the public think intelligence agencies needed tighter borders and should obey the rule that "friends aren't spied on," which includes the UN? Whatever the outcome, the paper said, the very fact that newspapers across the world are proclaiming the scandal will only harm Tony Blair's image.

Of course, it's despicable that Great Britain spied on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and other delegate countries, wrote Oslo's Aftenposten. However, the muted reactions to Short's statement point to the fact that other UN members also indulge in it, the paper said.

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