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Europe

German Press Review: Croatia’s Political Crossroads

With the ouster of the Social Democrats and the reentry of the nationalist party in Croatia, German papers offered mixed views on the leadership shift in a country still licking its war wounds.

The Financial Times Deutschland opined that Croatia’s newly elected prime minister, Ivo Sanader, who took over as leader of the nationalist Croatian Democratic Union or HDZ in 2000, will be measured by his ability to turn around the economy, lower the deficit, attract investment and create new jobs. It will soon become clear whether his HDZ party stands behind him when it comes to fulfilling the criteria for joining the European Union, the paper wrote. At the same time, the paper warned that critics who say Sanader won’t be able to turn the HDZ into a modern conservative party may be right.

"A hallmark of central and eastern European transition states is the principle of ‘pendulum democracy,’" commented Munich’s Süddeutsche Zeitung. "During elections, there are often swings to the left or to the right, and, usually, the current leaders are punished. In other words, change is normal." But, the paper noted, the government change will be different for Croatia, since its way into the future also carries a lot of historical baggage. "The Balkans wars have neither been dealt with economically nor historically," it wrote. "With the election victory of the HDZ, which began to shape the country during the war and governed it under its father figure Franjo Tudjman in an authoritarian manner for almost a decade, the shadow of the past is growing longer again."

"Voters are merciless, they punish the half-hearted and the indecisive," wrote the editors of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a leading German daily. But the paper opted not to speculate on the political prognosis for Sanader. "When it comes to achieving the political criteria for EU membership, we shall soon see whether the HDZ is behind him, as he claims, or whether those critics are right who do not believe in the transformation of the HDZ into a clean, modern conservative party, or who doubt his ability to achieve it."

The Badische Neueste Nachrichten in Southern Germany warned that the election of the nationalist Croation Democratic Union could hamper the country’s chances for early entry into the EU. Even though HDZ says it stands for democracy and human rights, the party doesn’t support the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague.

Other German newspaper editorialists set their sights on Turkey’s EU bid and how a recent wave of terrorist attacks in Istanbul will influence it.

It’s clear that Prime Minister Recep Erdogan’s plan of bringing Turkey closer to the West does not sit well with extremists in the country who want to reverse Kemal Atatürk’s life work, wrote the Märkische Oderzeitung. "They want to turn Turkey back into the leading Muslim nation it once was, but this fact should not be part of the debate in Brussels," the paper warned. In the end, any decision on future membership for Turkey should be based on criteria already laid out by the EU.

Other German papers looked at the continuing spat between German Finance Minister Hans Eichel and the European Commissioner for Monetary Affairs, Pedro Solbes, over how Germany should solve its deficit problem.

Eichel has much more to fear than the savings conditions proposed by Solbes, opined the financial daily Handelsblatt. Berlin is living in fear of the billion of euros in fines that could follow if Germany doesn’t manage to bring it’s deficit for 2005 below the 3 percent cap established in the euro’s Stability and Growth Pact. The paper wrote that Eichel shouldn’t be allow to interpret the pact as he sees fit. In the end, the paper warned, the European Commission and the stability pact must emerge as the winners in the argument – "and Eichel knows that as well."