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Europe

German Press Review: Fear of the 'R' Word

British Prime Minister Tony Blair's call for a referendum on a constitution for the European Union has raised eyebrows across Europe. Those of German editorial writers were among them.

German editorial writers agreed on the whole that British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a shrewd political decision in calling for an E.U. constitution referendum -- not necessarily for his own political future, but perhaps for the future of Europe.

Particularly keen commentary came from Lüneburg's Landeszeitung, which pointed out that at the highest point of his popularity, Blair had no chance of winning over Euroskeptics. Ironically, now, at the lowest point of his popularity, he can possibly do it. "The prime minister can now suggest that if London loses influence in the EU, the United Kingdom will find itself even more being the odd one out," the paper wrote. "And maintaining special ties with the former colonies in America wouldn't be a particularly well-fated decision in the long run. But British support for Blair's Iraq policy is sinking," the paper added, going on to imply that Blair could be voted out on that issue. Only by disengaging the E.U. referendum from the election does Blair have a chance to avoid keeping the E.U. project from failing, despite any election results, the paper concluded.

The Westfalenpost from Hagen added that Blair can use the threat of the upcoming referendum as a bargaining chip to get the changes that he wants from Brussels.

A number of papers used Blair's decision to make a rallying cry to E.U. supporters to start convincing normal citizens of the E.U.'s value. The strongest call came from the Financial Times Deutschland, which said that there is "fear not just on Her Majesty's island, but from Valetta to Helsinki that, the E.U. means: foreign infiltration, loss of sovereignty, and a big bureaucratic hole." Even in France, one of the founding countries, there are loud calls for a referendum. The paper's editors said now the EU has to use Blair's referendum as a chance to win the minds, if not the ears, of Europeans. "There are good arguments for the constitution: It will make the Union more democratic, more effective, and more transparent," it added. Blair's referendum may be an act of necessity, the paper writes, "but he's not a political gambler, and if he believes that he can convince skeptical Brits of Europe, then there's no EU politician who can back away from Europe." That would be far too complicated, and the voters will eventually realize it, the paper concluded.

In a separate development on Tuesday, Germany's highest court upheld the constitutionality of the so-called eco-tax to reduce energy consumption and reduce the monthly pension contribution that must be made by working Germans. German editorial writers all basically supported the decision.

But some papers, like the Märkische Oderzeitung in the eastern German city of Frankfurt an der Oder asked whether the tax makes sense. Has it fulfilled its expectations?

The Thüringer Allgemeine from Erfurt concluded: Clearly not -- gas consumption has only dropped 8 percent, CO2 emissions only 1.5 percent and pension contributions have still gone up 1.7 percent. The effect of the eco tax has been too weak to justify the job loss it has caused, the paper wrote.

Finally, the Leipziger Volkszeitung said the tax was approved with an ulterior motive aimed at insuring special interest group support for the ruling coalition of Social Democrats and Greens. The tax simplification that they promised has been left behind, and the price has been the loss of jobs and economic impulse, the paper concluded.