Press review | 30/09/2014



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Hong Kong demonstrates for more democracy

The pro-democracy activists are blocking access to Hong Kong's banking district. (© picture-alliance/dpa)


Tens of thousands of people have taken to Hong Kong's streets since the weekend to protest a decision by China that prevents the free election of the head of government of this special administrative region. Beijing can't afford to use brute force to crush the protests, commentators argue and call for Hong Kong to be used as a test area for democratic reforms.

Financial Times - United Kingdom

An ideal testbed for reforms

China's central government would be well advised not to crack down on the pro-democracy movement and to instead learn from experiences with reforms in Hong Kong, the conservative daily Financial Times maintains: "An intelligent response from the Communist party would allow Hong Kong to act as a testbed for democratic reforms. The formula of one country, two systems - allied with the territory's wealth and sophistication - is perfectly designed to allow Hong Kong to proceed with democratic reforms without triggering immediate demands for similar changes on the mainland. A successful and democratic Hong Kong might then serve as a model for the gradual introduction of similar reforms at a local and city level in the rest of China. Unfortunately, the central government in Beijing seems determined to take the opposite path." (29/09/2014)

Helsingin Sanomat - Finland

No sign of end to stalemate

The situation in Hong Kong will remain tense for some time, the liberal daily Helsingin Sanomat predicts: "Ever since pro-democracy activists were killed in Beijing in 1989, the Chinese Communist Party has been following a strict line on political demonstrations. It would be a horror scenario for the Party if a victory for the activists in Hong Kong prompted people on the mainland to follow suit. On the other hand, even a watered-down version of the Tienanmen bloodbath would pose a considerable obstacle to China on its path to international recognition. For their part the demonstrators would be hard put to give up their call for free elections after all the support they've received. Either they will grow weary and go home, or their protests will be crushed with violence. But as both possibilities seem unlikely for the moment, the stalemate could go on for a long time." (30/09/2014)

Neue Zürcher Zeitung - Switzerland

Hong Kong protests show China's weaknesses

The protests in Hong Kong highlight the weaknesses in the Chinese system, the liberal-conservative daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung comments: "The Chinese leadership can't and doesn't want to understand that depriving the people of political responsibility leads to individuals acting irresponsibly vis-à-vis that state and society. As long as the people allow themselves to be lulled into calm by growing prosperity this will hardly have negative consequences. But in times of economic hardship a population trained to focus only on its own interests will be difficult to keep under control. ... As always with China, in the case of Hong Kong too, the local and international business world, which only sees its own short-sighted interests, is the best friend of Beijing's authoritarianism. With the knockout argument that ultimately everyone just wants good business deals any political debate is choked from the outset." (30/09/2014)

Il Sole 24 Ore - Italy

Beijing can't afford violence

Beijing can't afford to violently quell the unrest in Hong Kong, the liberal business daily Il Sole 24 Ore notes, pointing to the plans for a financial trading link between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland: "Hong Kong is not Xinjiang or Tibet. It's not some remote mountainous enclave out in the wilderness. It's a trading hub, watched by the whole world. ... The leeway for direct and forceful intervention is limited. Especially now that the Beijing government has big plans for Hong Kong which it can't put at risk because of protests by a couple of thousand students and dreamers. The 'marriage for money' between Hong Kong's and Shanghai's stock exchanges, planned for the middle of the month, is at stake. ... It would have been important for China to give less draconic response than the limited electoral reform without free nomination of candidates at a time when its economy refuses to grow any more." (30/09/2014)


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ABC - Spain

Catalonia's separatists must be stopped

Spain's Constitutional Court has suspended Catalonia's planned independence referendum on Monday by agreeing to hear the Spanish central government's court challenge to the vote. This is the right response to the Catalonian regional government's scheming, the conservative and pro-centralist daily ABC comments: "Referendums are a matter for the state and no regional administrative authority has the right to carry out binding or non-binding referendums on affairs that can only be decided by the Spanish people, in whom according to the constitution all national sovereignty is vested. ... There can be no misunderstandings about yesterday's or future decisions of the Constitutional Court. The Catalan leader Arturo Mas has deliberately pushed Catalonia into a confrontation with the state. This is not a collision between two trains. There is only one train whose driver is bent on a suicidal mission to break the laws of the constitution." (30/09/2014)

El Tiempo - Colombia

Global perspectives: Avoid irreparable damage in Spain

The dispute between the Spanish central government and the independence-seeking region Catalonia has come to a head after Barcelona's plans for a referendum were put on hold by a court challenge from Madrid. But in a democracy it's never too late for consensus, the major Columbian newspaper El Tiempo admonishes: "The EU is clearly very concerned. If Catalonia gained independence it would face a dilemma. Although in theory the region would be automatically excluded from the EU, Brussels must take into account that the new state has an economy that is stronger and more dynamic than those of several of its members. ... Democracies can always find ways of avoiding painful breakups and reaching a consensus on the fundamental issues, in other words the commonalities. There is still time to prevent this collision between two trains from causing irreparable damage to the collective soul of the peoples." (30/09/2014)

Kurier - Austria

Commission hearings exemplary for all Europe

The questioning of the candidates for the new European Commission which began on Monday is a sign of functioning democracy in the liberal daily Kurier's view: "The hearings are by no means simply pleasant chats; the Brussels-based anti-lobby organisation Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) has gathered incriminating evidence against four to six candidates. In some of these cases there are purportedly professional conflicts of interest that according to CEO should bar the person in question from occupying a high-ranking EU post. If at the end of their scrutiny the MEPs also reach this conclusion, Juncker would be well advised to take their concerns seriously. ... The main thing is that the scrutiny is fair. Party-political criteria have no place here. The sole purpose is to determine whether the candidates are competent and have a vision for the future of the EU. If these requirements are fulfilled, the hearings will not only give Juncker's team legitimacy but can also serve as a model for ministerial hearings at a national level." (30/09/2014)

România Liberă - Romania

Microsoft scandal allows Romanian fresh start

The Romanian National Anti-Corruption Authority DNA plans to open investigations against nine ex-ministers. According to FBI investigations into US software giant Microsoft they were bribed into signing software contracts. The conservative daily România Liberă hopes the whole affair will be thoroughly investigated: "The investigations will hit all the parties hard. As they were launched in the US, there practically zero risk that high-ranking politicians will be spared. ... Once details emerge about the main offenders' misdeeds there will also be details about those of their respective parties and business associates. ... Multiply each major computer contract in Romania by five to ten persons and you'll get an idea of the size of this battalion that has wasted hundred of millions in state funds. ... Breaking off the investigations would be a fiasco. ... A historic opportunity to thoroughly purge Romanian politics of corruption would be missed. A fresh start 25 years after the revolution." (30/09/2014)

Libération - France

Victorious UMP must fear Front National

In the French senate election on Sunday, two representatives of the far-right Front National (FN) won seats in the French upper house for the first time. That should give the conservatives pause for thought, the left-liberal daily Libération believes: "The election of two FN senators shows yet again that the party of the Le Pen family is gaining ground, and that local politicians who aren't party members no longer hesitate to vote for FN and show their dissatisfaction with the traditional parties. Even if this election doesn't confirm that the far right is knocking on the doors of power, it does demonstrate that Marine Le Pen's strategy for making her party respectable is paying off. She is patiently laying the groundwork for her conquest and licking her lips in anticipation of next year's departmental and regional elections. Faced with this reality, the right would be very wrong to be elated by its victory. Because despite the success of the UMP, part of its voter base is sliding toward the far right." (29/09/2014)

Kettős Mérce - Hungary

Budapest's left betrays its values

The mayoral election campaign in Budapest took a surprising turn on Monday when the candidate of the united left-wing alliance, Ferenc Falus, withdrew, ceding his place to the chairman of the Movement for a Modern Hungary, former finance minister Lajos Bokros. The left is betraying its values, journalist András Jámbor writes in the opinion portal Kettős Mérce: "The left is making a mistake if it supports Bokros. ... For a leftist voter, someone for whom the fight against poverty and for equal opportunities has top priority, voting for Bokros is simply inconceivable. Especially in an election that's already decided [the conservative incumbent István Tarlós is the overwhelming favourite]. ... And at the same time it's completely incomprehensible that the left is abandoning its values in this way. ... A leftist who votes for Bokros is giving up his political convictions." (29/09/2014)


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NRC Handelsblad - Netherlands

Paris preventing reforms at Air France

After two weeks and hundreds of cancelled flights, the longest strike at France's biggest airline Air France came to an end when the company dropped plans to expand its budget subsidiary Transavia. The liberal daily NRC Handelsblad criticises the government in Paris for opposing an independent mediator: "The intervention by the French government is simply alarming. ... It demonstrates France's inability to reform and adjust to changes in the global economy. The crisis in the Eurozone, where clear signs of growth are still lacking after six years, can to a large extent be put down to an inability to implement structural reforms on the labour and retail markets. The fact that France is the least able to do this and has now even prevented a reform through active government intervention is truly worrying." (30/09/2014) - Ireland

Property prices leaving Irish homeless

Real estate prices in Dublin rose by 25.1 percent in the past twelve months, according to the Irish Central Statistics Office. To avoid social problems the government should swiftly adopt counter-measures, columnist Kevin Byrne writes on the online news portal "In many areas property is simply unaffordable, again. ... The main driver of these damaging increases in property (and rental) costs is a lack of supply of accommodation where people most need it, which is where most economic activity is - the greater Dublin area - where there is a growing population but minimal building activity since the crash. If that isn't addressed, expect to see more and more homelessness (including of those in employment) and a generation largely locked out of any prospect of owning their own home." (29/09/2014)


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Deutschlandfunk - Germany

Abuse of refugees not isolated incident

German Police are pressing charges against several individuals accused of assaulting asylum-seekers at a shelter in North Rhine Westphalia. These incidents are not isolated cases but the consequence of a sloppy and ignorant refugee policy, the public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk complains: "It's not just the lack of funding and exploding refugee figures, which certainly come as no surprise, that are causing the dire state of affairs in German refugee centres. ... Taking care of and protecting refugees, who are often traumatised, are sovereign tasks of our authorities. So how can it be that such a great responsibility is passed on to private companies which naturally are only thinking about their profit margins? The now notorious Essen-based company European Homecare - the very name seems like mockery - pockets up to 1,000 euros monthly for each asylum-seeker under its care. But at the same time home operators, dubious security firms and other subcontractors weren't subjected to scrutiny either." (29/09/2014)

Le Quotidien - Luxembourg

Protest call against IS contravenes secularism

The conservative MEP Rachida Dati has criticised French politicians via Twitter for calling on Muslims to protest against the IS terror militia. In her view this contravenes the French principle of secularism. The left-liberal daily Le Quotidien agrees: "Her tweet calls to mind the French specificity on the subject of secularism: unlike other countries we do not demand that people define their religious affiliations. Have we unintentionally reached the limits of this French version of secularism? It's quite possible, and must be borne in mind in future. Which does not mean questioning the legitimacy or importance of secularism. ... In any event, some 3,000 demonstrators gathered on Saturday in Nice and several hundred yesterday here in Paris to pay tribute to Hervé Gourdel and denounce the barbarity of the jihadists. And no one asked what religion they belonged to." (29/09/2014)

Jutarnji List - Croatia

Gay Pride not sign of tolerance in Serbia

A Gay Pride parade took place for the first time in four years in Belgrade on Sunday. The last time it was held in the city participants were attacked. This year's parade was not a sign of social tolerance but of the limitless power of Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić, the liberal daily Jutarnji List criticises: "It was Vučić alone who decided that this time the parade could take place because he wanted to demonstrate that everyone's rights are respected in Serbia. The homophobe hooligans stayed at home, armoured police vehicles blocked central Belgrade and people waving rainbow flags marched past the cameras with the support of ambassadors and MEPs. Then Vučić thanked the police and the hooligans for not indulging in beatings and rioting this time round. His gratitude extended to the majority of the Serbs who stayed off Belgrade's streets on Sunday. But from gratitude towards violent criminals for having restrained themselves to becoming a tolerant society, Serbia still has a long way to go." (30/09/2014)

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