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Europe

European Press Review: Uncertain Times Beget Empty Car Showrooms

The troubles besetting German car maker VW and the return to Britain of five Guantanamo detainees filled European editorial pages on Wednesday.


The German business daily Handelsblatt carried a front page picture of VW's worried chairman Bernd Pischetsrieder on Wednesday. VW had just announced that it expected "lousy" profits in the first quarter of this year and it intended to save €4 billion by 2005. Five thousand jobs will be shed, half of them in Germany. Handelsblatt ascribed VW's troubles to its over-emphasis on the luxury end of the market, its plethora of different brands and to the technology in its cars which was making them too expensive from many potential customers. The paper said Pischetsrieder was preparing for a worst-case scenario of falling demand, fiercer competition and prolonged weakness of the dollar. He was not resting his hopes on an economic upswing in Europe and the United States.

The Financial Times said that weak demand and a strong euro are problems faced not only by VW. The paper suggested that cyclical gearing to a German recovery may yet work in the company's favor.

Germany's Die Welt didn't look that far ahead. It said mass production manufacturers such VW, Ford or Opel suffered the most when consumer confidence dips. Whereas BMW and Mercedes customers could afford to ignore a sluggish economy, the majority of the population were worried about losing their jobs. When times are uncertain, you head for a bank, not for a car showroom, the paper commented.

Europe's papers continued mulling over Iraq's interim constitution. Der Standard from Austria noted that the paper left numerous questions unanswered such as how a legal legislature or executive should be created in the first place. The document states that the temporary constitution can't be changed without a three-quarters majority in a parliament, which as yet does not exist. This, Der Standard wrote, was democracy and Islam trying to square the circle.

Another Austrian paper, Die Presse, said the Bush administration could now claim that politics in Baghdad was no longer driven just by bombs and rifles, but by fountain pens. Die Presse wrote that this was a step in the right direction since all the influential groups in Iraq had been persuaded to agree on an important political document for the first time.

Four of the five Britons released from Guantanamo Bay were arrested by anti-terrorism police within minutes of their arrival in Britain on Tuesday night. In an editorial, The Guardian focused on the four who were still being detained in Guantanamo Bay and their proposed trial in the United States by a military commission. The paper noted that British Home Secretary David Blunkett said the evidence the acquired against the four would be best used in the United States. He should have added, the Guardian scoffed, that the evidence would have been inadmissible in a UK court due to the process under which it was extracted. Blunkett, the paper added, should also have been more blunt about the unsuitability of military commissions.

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