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Europe

German Press Review: U.S. Contract Ban Angers Europe

German papers focused Thursday on Washington's decision to bar companies from countries that opposed the war in Iraq from competing for prime reconstruction contracts.

The United States has neither forgiven nor forgotten, wrote the Ostsee-Zeitung in Rostock, as proven by Washington's decision to bar the war opposition from lucrative reconstruction contracts in Iraq. It said that Berlin and Paris expected tensions, but are angered by this latest move given that the U.S. collected billions of dollars for reconstruction at the donor conference. The paper concluded that it remains a Pentagon secret how U.S. security interests are protected by the exclusion of close NATO-partners from business in Iraq.

The Nürnberger Zeitung, meanwhile, wrote that the Pentagon anticipated criticism for its decision and has stressed that the contracts in Iraq are being paid for by U.S. taxpayers. In other words -- it’s nobody else’s business what the U.S. does with its money. That might be true, said the Nürnberger Zeitung, but only if the dollars don’t have to be paid back by the Iraqi people. An independent Iraq might want to make its own decisions over who gets the contracts, but that's not a possibility Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is prepared to consider.

The Wiesbadener Kurier expressed surprise at Wolfowitz's inability to learn from his past mistakes. In the face of an ongoing guerilla war and daily attacks on U.S. soldiers, Washington is relying on having strong allies, even reluctant ones. Brute action and blackmailing are counterproductive, it commented. The paper concluded that if the United States wants to make big money without sharing, it has to pull the chestnuts out of the fire itself.

The General-Anzeiger said the exclusion of anti-war countries was not in itself a shock, but Wolfowitz’s statement that only this would protect U.S. security interests was. The paper pointed out that Wolfowitz compares firms from opposition countries with the saboteurs in Iraq. The General-Anzeiger observed that the Pentagon may need to resort to these kind of insults to distract from the state of post-war Iraq, but to alienate partners like Germany and France is a diplomatic blunder.

German papers on Thursday also discussed the election of right-wing extremist Christoph Blocher, the firebrand leader of the Swiss People's Party, to the federal Cabinet -- Switzerland's most powerful elected body.

The Frankfurter Neue Presse wrote that right-wingers often have problems with parliamentarian rules, especially when they gain governmental power. It gave the examples of Jörg Haider in Austria, Ronald Schill in Germany and Umberto Bossi in Italy. Why? The paper suggests that these egocentric leaders gain their strength from protesting, but won't necessarily bring about government action, when they are part of the coalition. The Frankfurter Neue Presse observes that they then become frustrated and return to the constituency they came from, until they attack again. It’s going to be interesting to watch Blocher’s performance as a minister, concluded the paper.

The Stuttgarter Zeitung pointed out that Blocher now has to deal with the people. And more than two thirds of them did not voted for him. In a direct democracy like Switzerland, the citizen is king. The Stuttgarter Zeitung stressed that in the recent years, the people voted against Blocher’s course -- Switzerland became a U.N. member, the right of asylum was not restricted and the Swiss may one day vote for EU membership. Blocher can only win if he pulls himself together, concluded the paper -- and distances himself from his role as a nationalist. But will he?