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Europe

European Press Review: Time to Act

The crisis in Germany's automobile industry featured prominently in Thursday's European editorials. Outside Europe, the swearing in of Indonesia's first directly elected president also attracted comment.

Britain's Daily Telegraph said of Indonesia: Democracy's road has not been smooth, but the population of the world's most populous Muslim nation has shown no inclination to revert to the military-dominated governments of the past. The new president's tasks, as outlined in his speech, are huge -- to tackle corruption in a country deeply addicted to it, hoping to stimulate thereby an economy that is not providing nearly enough job opportunities. He has vowed to step up the fight against Jemah Islamiyah, the Indonesian terrorist organization with links to al Qaeda, and has hinted at introducing tougher laws to that effect.

Another British paper, the Financial Times, took German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to task saying he must take the axe to subsidies. The German government, the paper said, believes that there is now greater public acceptance of economic reform in Germany. Schröder might reflect that an attack on subsidies would meet many of the 10 criteria for successful reform that Sweden Premier Gorän Persson outlined to the German cabinet last month. There might be never be a better time, the paper opined, to tackle the long standing evil of state subsidies in Germany. It is time for Schröder to act, the paper concluded.

Germany's Social Democrats also want Schröder to act -- they want him to personally take charge of the crisis at the Opel car plants in Germany and hold talks with the management of the the parent company General Motors. Workers at the Opel car plant in Bochum have now returned to the production line, after having spent a week digesting news that thousands of jobs are now at risk. That is the lead story in Thursday's German papers.

In an editorial, the Frankfurter Rundschau said it was a wise move to end the wild cat strike. If it had continued, a rift between the engineering workers' union, which had urged moderation, and the work force would have deepened, much to the delight of General Motors management. But GM should be wary of jumping for joy too soon. If they try any trickery during the negotiations, the workforce will fight back again with even greater fury.

GM is moving some production to Poland, so comment from that country has an added poignancy.

The Polish paper Rzeczpospolita was convinced that the restructuring of Opel cannot be reversed. If that were possible, it said, the concern would cease to exist in a few years' time. Opel is not the only car maker cutting costs. On Thursday VW will be announcing a restructuring package and there will also be protests there. This time the Czechs will be the ones to blame, the Polish paper said, because their production costs are lower. The Danish paper Information also looked at the Opel crisis and Germany's economic malaise. It said crumbling consumer confidence must take at least some of the blame. People are saving, not spending. Fear of unemployment creates unemployment, the paper said. Cuts in pay cannot be answer. What Germany needs most is confidence in the future. But it is being suffocated by panicky managers and politicians calling for the loosening of restrictions on shop opening hours and benefit cuts.