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Europe

European Press Review: Is Mars Talk Election Talk?

Europe's papers on Friday mulled over U.S plans for a manned mission to Mars, but also cast a glance at the earthly deliberations at the World Social Forum in Bombay and looked at German talk of recession in 2003.

The Russian paper Kommersant was convinced that U.S. President George W. Bush's "cosmic speech" was nothing other than electioneering. All his plans refer to a time far in the future when he will no longer be in the White House, nor will he be responsible for seeing his schemes put into practice. If elected for a second term, he won't even be sanctioning big increases in funding for Mars and Moon projects. Cautious estimates put the cost of a Mars space shuttle at $24 billion. The whole of NASA's budget for the next five years is just $86 billion.

The Dutch paper De Volkskrant refused to believe this is just part of Bush's re-election campaign. For the Americans, the conquest of their own continent is barely history. They are fascinated by space. The prospect of an elaborate, costly mission to the final frontier has a special appeal, which will mobilize intellectual resources. In the U.S. as elsewhere, doubts about the scientific and political usefulness of the project will be voiced. However, Americans won't be impressed by the argument that you should wait until you have solved all problems on this earth before venturing off into space, the paper wrote.

Terrestrial concerns are numerous at the World Social Forum which began in Bombay on Friday. This is an annual gathering of opponents of big business and big government. The French paper Liberation said the host nation India tries to be the embodiment of opposition to the domination of world affairs by rich nations. But "India Inc." is unable to rescue the half a billion inhabitants who live on less than a dollar a day from the misery that surrounds them. The self-sufficiency that meant so much to Gandhi is turning into a worse enemy than globalization. To give the people of India a decent standard of living without destroying the planet or sparking conflict is an enormous challenge. It is one the opponents of globalisation should face up.

"Germany suffers first recession in ten years" proclaimed the front page of Friday's Financial Times. The Frankfurter Rundschau lead with the same story but avoided the word recession, saying instead that the German gross domestic product contracted last year for the first time since 1993. The Rundschau also quoted a federal official who says explicitly that Germany is not in a recession, but that the economy has been stagnating for two years. Exports were the only pillar propping up the economy in 2003, the paper went on to explain, investment and consumer demand were weak.

This lacklustre performance has not gone unnoticed in Germany's neighbour, Austria. The Salzburger Nachrichten said for years Germany has been telling Austrians what stability was and how an economy should be run. We are tempted to take delight in Germany's misfortunes, but will refrain from doing so, the paper said. The German economy is far too important for Europe, Austria included. Of greater interest to us, the daily wrote, is when the German economy will start to recover.