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European Press Review: Of Spaceships and Helplessness

European editorialists on Tuesday commented on the dire state of Germany’s governing Social Democratic party as well as the world’s first commercial space flight.

The leaders of Germany’s Social Democrats were summoned to a special meeting on Monday for policy discussions in the wake of the party’s abysmal showing in the recent European elections. Austria’s Der Standard remarked that anyone expecting them to come up with concrete answers would have been disappointed. Social Democratic party leader Franz Müntefering’s eagerly anticipated keynote address revealed nothing but helplessness, the paper wrote, whereas what the party -- and the government -- need now is a clear perspective. Müntefering insisted that the government would press ahead with its unpopular reform program, speaking only of a ‘change of emphasis.’ But Der Standard pointed out that what exactly he meant by this was left to the audience’s imagination.

After five years of listless inaction and false promises, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder finally conceded that the German economic and welfare systems were in need of reform, wrote De Volkskrant in the Netherlands. But, it said, his painful interventions lack a clear concept, the paper criticized; they’re being very badly implemented, and they’re not nearly far-reaching enough to have a positive effect on mass unemployment. Pain with no prospect of recovery -- hardly the way to persuade a spoiled population of the need to make sacrifices, the paper observed. Germany, it said, has steered its way into a heavy storm, with a fair-weather chancellor at the helm.

The first privately-funded manned space flight took off from the Mojave Desert in California on Monday, making history with its brief journey outside the earth’s atmosphere. A cause for celebration, according to the French paper La Nouvelle République du Centre-Ouest in Tours. One can imagine how much inventiveness, daring and courage were necessary to realize such a plan, it wrote admiringly, and announced that the state monopoly on space is over. Like every feat of engineering, it said, this success is proof of mankind’s capacity for invention.

But the Parisian daily Libération took a cooler view. A small step for mankind and a giant step for liberalism, it remarked. The latter can now show that its able to compete with the state even in the area of extreme activities. But comparing SpaceShipOne to a real spacecraft is like comparing a soapbox to a car, the paper said. Nobody’s going to run rings around planet Earth in that or fly to the moon. So the conquest of space will remain in state hands and will continue to be financed by the taxpayer for many years to come, Libération concluded.

Looking at another aspect of the launch, Britain’s The Independent described it as “one right-on rocket.” With its pioneering use of liquid nitrous oxide fuel, the paper said, SpaceShipOne showed that space travel can be relatively eco-friendly. And, the paper added, if all goes well, it should soon be offering some out-of-this-world holidays, too.

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