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Europe

German Press Review: Schröder and Bush Backed Up Against the Wall

German newspapers on Thursday look to Chancellor Schröder’s meeting with President Bush and a high court decision that enabling states to pass laws banning Islamic headscarves in class.

The Chemnitz Freie Presse was critical of the meeting between Gerhard Schröder and George W. Bush, writing that both the German chancellor and U.S. president "are standing with their backs to the wall." While Schroeder doesn't face any elections in 2004, the paper wrote, "the population’s drop in trust in him and his government has taken on dramatic proportions." No wonder then, commented the paper, "that both Bush and Schröder see the international stage as the perfect avenue to polish their own images at home."

The Leipziger Volkszeitung agreed, writing that politics is also show business. "One faces low opinion polls at home and can't cope with rebuilding Iraq so he shows a brave face in a game of diplomacy with the Germans. And the other, stressed with his reform agenda, finally had a face to face meeting with the U.S. president," thus making him an acceptable negotiating partner in Paris, New York and Washington again. But the paper concluded that the handshake between Bush and Schröder was "an important step forward."

Gushing displays of friendship should be best be kept hidden, the editors of Bonn's General Anzeiger wrote -- noting that 40 minutes of "bilateral small talk" was hardly the occasion for that. The paper added: "The German government was too cocky in its dealing with its partner in Washington and too self righteous was the response by a nation that has entered the superpower’s worst nightmare and faces the reality of the guerrilla terror against coalition forces in Iraq." Still, the bilateral relationship can be reestablished and forged through a "new transatlantic psychology," the paper concluded.

Munich's Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote that one day when the advisors of President Bush and Chirac and Chancellor Schröder meet again they will slap their thighs with satisfaction on "how perfectly they foiled the public with their play of reconciliation." However, the paper commented, the actual script looks more like this: "A U.S. president is domestically in a bit of a fix and worries about his reelection chances. And therefore he needs the support of friends overseas particularly to douse the international fire that continues to burn in Iraq."

Meanwhile, Germany's Federal Constitutional Court ruled on Thursday that female Muslim teachers may wear a headscarf in the classroom. But far from accepting the religous practice, the ruling also opened the door for a ban by saying that if states wanted to prevent teachers from wearing headscarves in the classroom, they would have to pass laws specifically banning the practice.

The Saarbrucker Zeitung wrote that now the states can see how they get out of this mess alone. "All over the country there'll be ongoing disputes in regional areas , slowing the integration process – all because the court could not come up with a much needed clear-cut position on the issue."

Potsdam's Märkische Allegemeine expressed disappointment in the court’s ruling. "Instead of solving this problem, the judges pushed their decision back on the politicians. A society needs consensus and sticking together and it would have been preferable not to have pushed this difficult issue on to the politically opportunistic states."

The Allegemeine Zeitung in Mainz commented that the decision shows that much of Germany's Muslim population doesn't accept the local culture and that "their integration is more of a political wish than the reality. The debate over the headscarf has done more to harm the co-habitation of religions and cultures than good."