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Europe

European Press Review: The Iranian Pressure Cooker

European papers are alarmed by a decision by hard-liners in Iran to bar 80 of parliament's sitting members from running in national elections in February.

The Dutch paper De Volkskrant wrote that the hard-liners, led by Supreme Leader Ayotallah Ali Khamenei, are dissatisfied with the course being pursued by parliament, where the reformers command a majority. Whether Iran improves relations with the United States depends largely on the outcome of the elections. If the reformers win, the population's desire for closer ties with the U.S. is likely to be fulfilled. The decision by the Guardian Council, which undertakes nothing without first consulting Khamenei, is a measure of how far the opponents of closer ties are prepared to go.

The Spanish paper El Pais viewed this banning of reform candidates as a covert coup d'etat and is convinced that the hard-liners are making the most of the confusion sown by the Bam earthquake and the Iraq war. They started the conflict with the reformers by issuing the veto on the liberal members of parliament. If President Mohammad Khatami reacts now, he will further the cause of the reformers. If he just keeps his head down, he will be lost, the paper concluded.

The Norwegian paper Aftenposten observed that Iran is a powerful state and as such is playing a key role in the tug-of-war that is being fought over reform in the Arab world. With American troops stationed in two of ist neighbors, Iraq and Afghanistan, the situation is Iran is extremely precarious. Liberal Iranians are threatening to boycott the elections if the religious leadership perseveres with its plans. That is understandable, but hardly wise, as it could lead to the opponents of reform gaining a majority in parliament.

One story that made front-page news in the German papers is Berlin's decision to draw up legislation regulating the cultivation of bio-engineered crops. The law would effectively put into action existing EU directives on what can be grown, where, under what conditions and how it should be labeled. It was the product of a hard-fought compromise between the ruling Social Democrats and Greens.

The Frankfurter Rundschau explained that biotechnology is Social Democrat Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's favorite metaphor for innovation; the Greens are proud to have brought consumer choice into harmony with their obligation to ward off hazards to human health, animals and the environment. However, the paper observed, this law cannot protect producers of genetically unmodified food if the market is swamped by modified foodstuffs.

Another German paper, Die Welt, carried a picture of a tin of Sainsbury's Tomato Puree bearing the words "made with genetically modified tomatoes." Such produce is already on sale in British shops, the paper explained. In an editorial, the paper wrote that labeling like this will enable the consumer to decide for or against GM foods. That is, if it is left up to the market whether GM foods establish themselves in Germany or not.

The London-based Financial Times also had its thoughts firmly fixed on food -- particularly on consumer concern about high dioxin levels in Scottish farmed salmon. The salmon-colored paper argued that, although it as a newspaper is not qualified to give health advice, it would do most people no harm to take food scares with a big grain of salt. In a more business-like tone, the FT then concluded that governments should find ways of encouraging a sustainable system of "aquaculture" that can feed the world with fish, while safeguarding the marine environment.