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Europe

European Press Review: Voter Apathy

Friday's European papers examined the challenges for a unified Europe ahead of the European parliamentary elections and commented on the U.S. warnings of terror attacks planned by al Qaeda this summer.

At no time in their 25-year history have the European parliamentary elections managed to mobilize voters for European ideas and programs, declared Spain’s El País newspaper. Instead, it remains a collection of polls on national issues, the paper wrote and went on to say that it’s a pity the EU constitution could not have been completed in time for the elections. Had it been put to the vote, the elections might have had more of a European focus, the daily concluded.

Britain’s Financial Times pointed out that not counting the 10 new EU members, only one third of EU citizens say they will definitely vote in the coming European parliamentary election. This kind of apathy is often seen as a reflection of dissatisfaction with EU institutions for being too distant from the people and lacking democratic accountability, the paper noted and argued that the Union merely reflects the kind of leadership offered by national governments – so a weak EU is more or less a the consequence of weak leaders in Paris, London, Berlin and elsewhere. But instead of only complaining about the shortcomings of the EU, the paper urged European leaders not to neglect all the achievements and successes of the Union.

Turning to the United States, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper commented on the U.S. government’s warning of new terrorist attacks within the country planned by al Qaeda. The paper noted how the announcement of an end-phase to al Qaeda’s plans for an attack on the U.S. happens to come just at a time when the approval ratings for President George W. Bush are in serious decline. And it is just at this time that U.S. intelligence happens upon “reliable information” on the planned attacks, including the names and descriptions of alleged terrorists, the daily continued. It expressed astonishment that something like this would be made public and finds it unprofessional on the part of the intelligence services. But in the face of such a serious terror warning, no opponent of Bush will be able to criticize him for being too focused on the fight against al Qaeda, the paper concluded.

Switzerland’s Basler Zeitung on the other hand dismissed as a conspiracy theory the suggestion that the Bush government would warn of possible attacks in the U.S. simply to stoke voters’ fears of terrorism and to distract attention from its poor approval rates and the problems in Iraq. It speculated that U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft perhaps gave such a cryptic warning to avoid accusations in the case of another serious attack that officials once again overlooked the threat and did not inform the public. Should an attack actually occur, Bush would have to explain why he spent two years fighting Saddam Hussein and gave Osama bin Laden a chance to regroup, the paper noted. The French regional paper Le Télégramme asked if it is even necessary to take the warnings of the U.S. government seriously. Although the G8 summit, the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and the U.S. presidential election offer numerous occasions for terror attacks, the paper pointed out that the U.S. is no longer the only target for terrorists. The daily said it cannot rule out that Washington aims to manipulate voters with its terror warning, arguing that fear of another attack could inspire Americans to stand behind the president.