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European Press Review: Schröder in a Bind

Tuesday's European papers focused on the start of the trial of alleged child murderer Marc Dutroux in Belgium as well as German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's woes, following his party's defeat in weekend elections.

Chancellor Schröder is feeling the hot breath of the opposition panting down his neck, wrote Dutch paper De Telegraaf. The paper opined that the task of leading the country was becoming increasingly unpleasant for him. But the paper added that the Christian Democrats were quite happy to stand back and watch Schröder’s government juggle the hot potato of social and economic reforms, because the conservatives were still nowhere near ready to govern.

Schröder has failed to convince the voters of the necessity of reform, and now it was probably too late, wrote Danish paper Information. It commented that the chancellor wasn't a man for the long haul as he lacked the necessary patience. According to the paper, what we’re seeing now is a chancellor in retreat.

The Spanish paper ABC described the Hamburg election result as an alarm signal for the German government. According to the paper, as things stand now, Schröder can only lose. If he goes ahead with the reforms, he’ll lose votes -- and if he doesn’t, he’ll lose them too. In the second instance, though, the paper warned that it wouldn’t be just Schröder who would lose, but Germany as a whole.

The Times of London mused on Schröder’s personal identification with his reform program. The problem, as it saw it, was that Schröder had presented himself as the man who could make Germany not only efficient, but also happy. Yet the public perceived him as someone who was continually heaping new burdens upon them. Germany, according to the paper, was not so much in economic recession as clinical depression. It observed that, all too often, Schröder seemed to reflect this mood rather than presenting the country with the vision it yearned for.

Commenting on the start of the trial of alleged paedophile Marc Dutroux in Belgium, Austria’s Salzburger Nachrichten commented that not only Dutroux, but the whole of Belgium was on trial. The state had failed to observe its duty to protect the weakest members of society, the paper declared, summing up: Belgium left its children in the lurch.

Polish paper Rzeczpospolita assessed the Dutroux trial as a heavy indictment of the Belgian establishment. It contended that the assumption, against all common sense as well as all the evidence, that Dutroux had acted alone was a defeat for the Belgian judicial and political systems. However, the paper was confident that, while those who made use of Dutroux’s services may be powerful, they were not powerful enough to block the course of justice.

In Belgium itself, Het Laatste Nieuws was appalled by Dutroux’s appearance in court. Mr. Dutroux had trouble sleeping, it reported. So he dozed off during the first day of the proceedings. The paper was in no doubt as to what kind of man this was, and it said that anyone who still hadn't been sure could now put their doubts aside. It characterized Dutroux as an extremely narcissistic man, who was so egotistical that he was incapable of feeling the pain of others.

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