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European Press Review: Not Just Good Tidings

Editorial writers across Europe on Wednesday reflected on Christmas, the cold-related deaths in Britain, troubled transatlantic ties and the latest controversy surrounding Italian Premier Berlusconi.

The deaths of two and a half thousand people in England from cold weather-related illness over the past week caused several writers to reflect on western society’s seeming lack of compassion.

The Belgian paper De Morgen wrote that the reasons for the deaths are the same as those that allowed 11,000 people to die from heat-related causes in France last summer: "the way people are isolated in urban societies, and an obvious lack of social engagement on the part of western welfare states."

British daily The Independent pointed out that two and a half thousand represents a higher proportion of the population than in Finland or Russia. It wrote that the major cause of such deaths is fuel poverty, quoting official estimates that three million households in Britain spend 10 percent of their income on maintaining a satisfactory indoor temperature. "In such a rich country, there is no need to see fellow citizens die of cold," the paper concluded.

The German Die Welt newspaper reflected on Christmas. One of its front-page articles dealt with what American experts call "holiday shopping angst": the feeling we have when we see a better present than the one we have found in the shopping trolley of the person next to us. "This fear could be one reason why people are spending less on their Christmas shopping," the paper wrote.

Meanwhile for the second year running, the German mass-selling daily Bild is running a Christmas issue that only has positive news and stories. "After all," wrote editor in chief Kai Diekmann, "Good tidings is the main message of Christmas."

Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera looked at the troubled relationship between the European Union and the U.S. "If the rift between the U.S. and the EU remains," it wrote, "the political hawks in Washington will triumph, even if the Democrats win the race to the White House." It went on to say that, although the United States alone could get on top of a crisis, no crisis could be resolved without it.

In an editorial entitled "They do it their way", British newspaper The Guardian also focused on the differences between American and European culture. It says "Calling the U.S. a militaristic culture may be an exaggeration, but a pardonable one," it wrote and noted that the Time magazine had decided to award its Person of the Year award to "The American soldier".

Several papers also cast a critical eye on Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi. On Tuesday the Italian cabinet passed an emergency decree aimed at saving one of three television channels owned by Berluscon’s family from closure.

In its Christmas edition, the French weekly L’Express wrote, "Berlusconi has shown over the past six months in particular that he is inadequate for his task. This is true both of his presidency of the European Union and of politics in Italy." The paper went on to accuse him of behaving as if politics were only a TV show.

Switzerland’s Basler Zeitung also criticized Tuesday’s decree, issued by the Italian cabinet and signed by Berlusconi himself, allowing one of his family's private national television stations to continue land-based transmissions. The paper wrote, "the incomparable accumulation of power at the top has led to a permanent conflict of interest."