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Europe

German Press Review: Vote First, Then Watch the Soccer Game

A day before polling booths open in Germany, the country's papers weighed in on the European Union's parliamentary elections and their significance for national politics.

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Elections and Euro 2004 -- a truly European weekend awaits voters and soccer fans.

The Hamburger Abendblatt defended the EU and it's institutions in view of what it said is a "distorted image that many European citizens unfortunately have." The standard impression is that the European Union is a bureaucratic monster that suffers from a deficiency in political legitimacy. But, it warned, "not only is this image deeply unjustified it's also dangerous – because excessive criticism has the effect of also damaging the European ideal of a continent existing in peace and freedom. It's only been 15 years since the collapse of communism," the paper noted, "Europeans should acknowledge the opportunities before them."

"The European Union is like an extended family," wrote the Kölner Stadt Anzeiger. The EU's good side is simply taken for granted, it said. "To counter the widespread level of disinterest, Europe must strengthen it's own institutions and make them more democratically legitimate," the Cologne-based paper argued. The European Parliament in Strasbourg needs more power, the decisions taken by the Commission President must be approved by a majority in Strasbourg just as the draft EU constitution envisions, it said.

European and local authorities have a lot more in common than it appears, commented the Stuttgarter Zeitung. "Decisions taken in Brussels or at the local council around the corner all affect our lives. Yet let's not kid ourselves," the daily added, "while European and local politics are still ranked number two in importance, the results of European elections as well as the local government elections in the state of Thuringia will have an impact on the federal government level."

The Freie Presse from Chemnitz said initial polling results have not resulted in any surprises. The ruling parties in the older EU member states have been punished and Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Labour Party have been hit particularly hard -- the Labour party has even dropped back to third place behind the Tories and Liberals, the eastern German paper observed The European parliamentary elections have turned into a litmus test for national governments, and this does not bode well for Germany or France, it predicted.

The Landeszeitung from Lüneburg declared it a truly European weekend, with both European parliamentary elections and the European soccer championships taking place. But while the elite kickers from the continent attract a good deal of attention over the next three weeks, there's concern the European elections won't muster the same level of interest. Yet, the daily questioned, "what other opportunity is there for an individual citizen to have some influence on the massive Union?" Recent events show how important it is for the old and new Europe to act together as a counterweight against the United States superpower, the paper recalled. "The advice for Sunday is vote first and then go and watch the match between England and France – a test of skills between two old European friends," the paper suggested.

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