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Press review | 18/12/2014

 

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Thaw in US-Cuba relations

US President Obama and Cuban head of state Castro: their countries broke off diplomatic ties with each other in 1961. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

 

President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday plans to ease restrictions on the circulation of persons, money and goods between the US and Cuba. Diplomatic ties between the two countries are also to be resumed. Finally Washington is ending its failed policy of isolation, some commentators write. Others doubt this will make Cuba more democratic.

Le Soir - Belgium

High time for a new Cuba policy

Obama is right to improve relations with Cuba because the course steered up to now has led to a dead end, the liberal daily Le Soir observes: "The policy with which the US tried to isolate Cuba for the past 50 years has proved inefficient because a Castro is still in power there. As relations between Washington and Moscow increasingly take on the unpleasant odour of the Cold War, the US president has decided to have done with this bothersome legacy from the 1960s in the country's own backyard. Opening the door to Cuba will allow the free movement of politicians, people and ideas. A salutary wind of change that has already led to the release of political prisoners. Cuba has also changed and opened up, at least in economic terms. Obama has caught the pass that was aimed his way. It was about time too." (17/12/2014)

Corriere della Sera - Italy

A long path to democracy

Cuba is not going to become more democratic just like that, the liberal-conservative daily Corriere della Sera writes in view of the rapprochement between Washington and Havana: "'I am under no illusions,' Obama said. He has done what should have been done long ago. But - like Obama himself - we're sceptical about whether the rapprochement will also be beneficial for the Cuban government. Economically and financially certainly, because Cuba is only just keeping its head above water. But what about travel and banking restrictions? And above all, how do things stand with the opening of the market for communication technology and Internet access? Raúl Castro has shown the courage to introduce reforms, but they have never been of a political nature. He may have to pull the handbrake to stay in the saddle and to prevent his brother Fidel from dying of a broken heart." (18/12/2014)

De Volkskrant - Netherlands

Geopolitical advantages for Washington

The US and Cuba have taken a historical step, the left-liberal daily De Volkskrant comments approvingly: "Both countries have an interest in improved relations. The trade embargo is a millstone around Cuba's neck and renders the country completely dependent on the good will of its allies. ... The fall of the Berlin Wall left Cuba facing serious problems until Venezuela came to its rescue [with its pro-Cuba policy]. ... The question is how long Venezuela will be able to afford to keep on supporting Cuba. For the US there are now geopolitical advantages. ... The US is also sending a signal to Russia, which since the conflict in Ukraine has desperately been trying to improve relations with Latin America. The normalisation of relations with Cuba will earn the US much applause from Latin American leaders and take the wind out of Russia's sails." (18/12/2014)

El País - Spain

Lame duck Obama picking up speed

Since it became clear that without a majority in both houses of Congress US President Barack Obama must govern as a "lame duck", he has taken some important decisions, the left-liberal daily El País comments: "The thaw in relations between Washington und Havanna marks the end of one of Democrat Barack Obama's most productive months since he moved into the White House in 2009. ... The three decisions - climate change, immigration reform and Cuba policy - have something in common: they are unilateral actions, presidential decisions without a majority in Congress. Obama has made the most of the little leeway an oppositional Congress leaves him to make policies and to prove what another Democrat before him, Lyndon B. Johnson, said shortly before passing the civil rights laws: the presidency can sometimes be useful." (17/12/2014)

POLITICS

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Die Presse - Austria

Recognising Palestine won't lead to peace

The EU Parliament voted by a majority in favour of recognising the state of Palestine "in principle" on Wednesday. However it stipulated new peace negotiations as a precondition. The conservative daily Die Presse sees the resolution as useless. "The watered-down text, the bland result of a compromise between two opposing positions, can be interpreted at will. ... It has zero impact in practical terms. A Palestinian state won't become a reality through pathetic resolutions but through tough compromises on where the borders lie and on the exchange of territory, the dismantling of settlements, the return of Palestinian refugees and a peace agreement. Only the Israelis and the Palestinians themselves can make peace with each other. No one else can do it for them, not even the most well-meaning Europeans." (18/12/2014)

Deutschlandfunk - Germany

Palestine and Israel must do their bit

The European Parliament voted on Wednesday to recognise an independent Palestinian state but only if the peace talks between Palestine and Israel are resumed. Several national European parliaments have already recognised Palestine's statehood. The resolution correctly formulates what both sides need to contribute, the public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk comments: "It could have been detrimental if the EU Parliament had recognised Palestine without stipulating any conditions. A Palestine partly governed by Hamas, a group which has enshrined the annihilation of the state of Israel in its statutes. ... What is right and important is that it stresses both Israel's right to exist and its duty to refrain from measures that could torpedo the goal of enduring and sustainable peace, so unforeseeable at this point in time. Measures such as the unbridled construction of new settlements." (17/12/2014)

Newsweek Polska - Poland

Poroshenko raises Poland's status as mediator

Ukrainian President Petro Poroschenko travelled to Poland on a state visit on Wednesday. His visit raises Poland's status as a mediator in neighbouring Ukraine's conflict, the news magazine Newsweek Polska comments with satisfaction: "Poland was the European country that most supported the revolution in Ukraine. But after the revolution's success Kiev appeared to forget this somewhat. Of course it repeatedly expressed gratitude and assurances that the two countries are friends. But when it came to finding international mediators for solving the conflict with the Russian separatists and Russia, no one turned to Warsaw for help. ... By visiting Poland, a Ukrainian politician has taken an important step in this direction. He expects to find a major ally here. For Poland this is the opportunity to return to the forefront of the European coalition that supports Ukraine." (18/12/2014)

Proto Thema - Greece

Samaras government living in a dream world

Greece's early presidential elections failed in their first round on Wednesday. The candidate of the governing coalition, former EU Commissioner Stavros Dimas, received just 160 of the 300 votes in parliament - falling far short of the required 200. For the liberal weekly paper Proto Thema it's clear the government no longer has sufficient backing: "The result makes it glaringly obvious: the government is living in a world of its own and believes the fairy tale of its success story. ... These politicians actually believe that they're successful! That the country can't survive without them! That they've saved us! They really do believe it, while at the same time telling us that we're facing huge risks that threaten the country with destruction and devastation. ... It all goes to show just how sick our power system is: not only is it unable to help the country, it can't even save itself." (18/12/2014)

Deutsche Welle - Romania

Floor-crossing ban for local politicians is apt

The Romanian Constitutional Court on Wednesday ruled that an emergency decree issued by the Ponta government in August was anti-constitutional. The decree allowed local politicians 45 days to switch parties without losing their mandate, as the law stipulates they should. The Romanian service of the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle welcomes the ruling: "This is good news because now it will no longer be possible to make light of existing laws like this. The Constitutional Court has put an end to a practice that's as foolish as it is unfitting for a democracy. But what repercussions will this have? Will the mayors who switched parties now lose their posts? Hardly: the ruling isn't retroactive. That seems unfair to those who behaved with integrity and didn't change parties. Once again, maverick politics seems to have won out in Romania." (18/12/2014)

ECONOMY

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Hospodářské noviny - Czech Republic

Europe needs a stable Russia in the long term

The financial turmoil in Russia shouldn't be a source of satisfaction for anyone and demands countermeasures also from Europe, the liberal business daily Hospodářské noviny admonishes: "The combination of anti-Russian sanctions and dropping oil prices is a cocktail the effects of which no intervention by the Central Bank of Russia can ameliorate - even if its foreign currency reserves are among the largest in the world. The non-state-owned banks that have no access to the international credit market may soon run into problems. Russia already experienced a combination of currency and banking crisis back in 1998, and only got through it thanks to the rising oil price. This is a scenario that won't be repeated now. Russia can survive the collapse of the rouble and the displeasure of the global financial markets for now. But to ensure long-term stability it needs a gesture. And that gesture must come from the EU. It is in the EU's own interests to make it." (18/12/2014)

Dnevnik - Bulgaria

Foolish Putin fell into the trap

The international community has lured Putin into a trap from which there is no escape, political commentator Evgenii Dainov writes on the news portal Dnevnik commenting on the rouble crisis: "The West has done a good job bringing this off: the drop in the price of oil - a key Russian export - comes at a time when Russia needs to spend money it doesn't have. Just as with the collapse of the USSR, the trap has been laid in such a way that Russia has no alternative but to spend more money - until it goes broke. That said, 30 percent of this can be put down to the West's cleverness and 70 percent to Putin's foolishness. ... 15 independent states emerged after the bankruptcy of the USSR. Now the collapse of the Russian economy will inevitably lead to a collapse of power structures. For the individual 'federal subjects' this will be a real chance to declare their independence from Russia." (18/12/2014)

SOCIETY

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The Times - United Kingdom

Gay bishop after woman bishop, please!

The Church of England named the Rev Libby Lane as its first woman bishop on Wednesday. The conservative daily The Times welcomes her appointment but demands further reforms: "What the church does next will say a great deal about its capability and willingness to survive as a force in modern society. ... The church has also begun a thorny 'shared conversation' about sexuality that should, if it is sensibly conducted, result in the accession of the first openly gay bishop by the end of the decade. This next battle will be no easier but no less important. The manifold prejudices that rack the church will not subside until there are no 'women bishops' or 'gay bishops' - only bishops." (17/12/2014)

Hürriyet - Turkey

Beşiktas fans may win coup trial

The trial against 35 fans of the Istanbul football club Beşiktas began on Tuesday. The "Çarşı" fan group is accused of planning to topple the government during the Gezi Park protests and its members face lifelong prison sentences. But the evidence against them is so flimsy that the politicians won't push through harsh punishment, columnist Kenan Başaran contends in the conservative daily Hürriyet: "On paper Çarşı neither has a chairman nor the structure of an association. You'll find many Beşitkaş fans on the street who describe themselves as Çarşı members, because Çarşı is not an association but a state of mind. ... I'm convinced that it won't be possible to prolong this trial and find evidence of a coup. The rest will be left to the politicians, but I doubt they are very interested in the Çarşı trial. It will probably end after two or three sessions with light punishments for the damage of public property." (18/12/2014)

Neue Zürcher Zeitung - Switzerland

Germany's road toll discriminating

The German cabinet on Wednesday approved the introduction of a road toll in Germany starting January 2016. A discriminating coercive measure, the liberal-conservative daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung rails: "True, both Germans and foreigners will have to pay the toll. But Germans will then be able to offset the full amount against their vehicle tax. Neither the Swiss nor the Austrians will have such privileges for their road tax discs. Ultimately the fate of the road toll will have to be decided at the European Court of Justice. ... In view of record high tax revenues, Germany shouldn't have problems finding money for additional investments in its budget. ... But perhaps Germany could learn something from France, which has privatised its motorway network. The World Economic Forum gave France 4th place on road quality (while Germany ranked 13th). In any event one thing is clear: the road toll project borders on harassment - a fact the German government isn't willing to admit." (18/12/2014)

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