European Press Review: Trouble for Schröder and Rumsfeld | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 25.08.2004
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European Press Review: Trouble for Schröder and Rumsfeld

Germany's domestic woes and the shortcomings of American military justice and are two of the topics taken up by leading European editorialists on Wednesday.

Papers are taking a keen interest in the demonstrations against German Chancellor Schröder's welfare reforms. In Poland, the Gazeta Wyborcza said Schröder must keep his word and persevere with the reforms until their completion. Otherwise, Germany will become the sick man of Europe and in view of its chronic budgetary problems and economic stagnation, succumb to collective depression. Opinion surveys are already saying the eastern Germans are the most discontented people in the whole of the EU. Clearly, the Polish paper pointed out, its neighbors on the other side of the Oder River do not compare their standard of living to that of the Poles or Bulgarians but to that of their compatriots in the west.

In Britain the Daily Telegraph expressed sympathy for the eastern German demonstrators and said industrial employment in the city of Leipzig has fallen from 100,000 to 12,000 over the past 15 years.

The sentiment was echoed by Gazeta Wyborca, which wrote that Schröder will need all of his famed toughness if he is to implement his reforms.

There was bad economic news for the German government on Tuesday when the Federal Statistics Office calculated the German public deficit for the first six months of the year amounted to 4 percent. Under the terms of the European Growth and Stability Pact, it is not allowed to exceed 3 percent.

The Belgium business daily L' Echo commented that the German government will find it difficult to meet its deficit target of 3.3 percent for the whole of 2004. German economic growth is export-driven and hesitant; domestic demand is modest at best and investment falling. The high price of oil and the social unrest sparked by social welfare reforms are compounding the government's difficulties and threaten to put even more strain on the economy and undermine weak consumer confidence still further, the paper concluded.

The Austrian paper Kurier took issue with the military commission proceedings in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba being instigated against detainees from Afghanistan. In June, the paper recalled, the US Supreme Court called for fair civilian trials. But in Guantanamo, there is no assumption of innocence until proof of guilt, no right to remain silent and no entitlement to a civilian lawyer. Human rights groups and defense lawyers say one cannot assume the defendants will get a fair trial, the paper remarked.

Still on the subject of the American military penal system, the investigative panel looking into the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib jail concluded that leadership shortcomings were responsible for creating a chaotic environment in which such conduct was possible. The Financial Times argued that lack of oversight is a poor excuse in a military hierarchy and noted that the report does not point the finger directly at top civilian and military officials in the Pentagon. Some culpability must surely lie there, the paper opined. Yet so far it is only low ranking soldiers who are carrying the load for the Abu Ghraib abuses. Abu Ghraib is the product of the post 9/11 feeling that the United States had to "take the gloves off" to fight terrorism. Washington cannot stoop in this way if it is ever to conquer, the paper noted.

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