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MAIN FOCUS | 31/03/2015

France shifts to the right

France's conservative camp under ex-president Nicolas Sarkozy emerged the clear winner of France's departmental elections on Sunday. The far-right Front National won fewer votes than expected. The conservatives must decide whether they want to make deals with the far right in future, some commentators write. Others already see Sarkozy as the winner of the 2017 presidential elections.

With articles from the following publications:
Corriere della Sera - Italy, Neue Zürcher Zeitung - Switzerland, Der Standard - Austria, Marianne - France

Corriere della Sera - Italy

Nicolas Sarkozy already has good chances of winning the presidential election in 2017, the liberal-conservative daily Corriere della Sera believes: "The French aren't all that keen to see Sarkozy make a comeback. His image is a bit frayed, his energy is perceived more as arrogance than true power. The memory of his presidency conjures up the economic crisis, subservience to Merkel and the terrible consequences of the Libya operation. … But the law of change favours him. In the last 35 years those in power have always lost the elections. … This, however, has less to do with the politicians than with France itself. It senses its own insignificance as soon as it's not towing along behind the German enemy it so admires. It sees the prosperity it built up for itself in the glorious years between 1944 and 1974 draining away. A decline against which all the leaders so far have proven powerless. Including Sarkozy." (31/03/2015)

Neue Zürcher Zeitung - Switzerland

After their victory in the local elections France's Conservatives must decide whether they are open to alliances with the far-right Front National, the liberal-conservative daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung comments: "The conservative right must decide whether it would rather team up with the left or with the right-wing populists. Alain Juppé, currently Sarkozy's only serious rival, wants to steer clear of the Front National. The former president, on the other hand, is playing his cards close to his chest: his mantra is that voters should cast their ballots neither for left-wing parties nor for far right ones. He has avoided disassociating himself entirely from the Front National; he has avoided negating the party's 'republican' legitimation, as [Prime Minister] Valls does. How far can or should Nicolas Sarkozy allow himself to be tempted by Marine Le Pen? This question will no doubt be the subject of extensive discussions in the conservative camp." (31/03/2015)

Der Standard - Austria

The conservatives have no reason to celebrate their victory in France's departmental elections, the left-liberal daily Der Standard warns: "Battered by the crisis, the frustrated voters have just as little faith in Sarkozy as they do in Hollande. Since they voted the former out of office they've had no reason to revise that decision - apart from punishing the latter. The real negative voters, that is those who cast their ballots for the Front National, go away empty-handed: although the party secured more than 25 percent of the vote in the first round, Marine Le Pen won only a few of the 101 departmental councils because of the majority voting law. That may be good news politically - but it's questionable from a democratic point of view. From the left to the far right, the French are growing increasingly angry about the scant choice of candidates and the democratic deficit in their country." (31/03/2015)

Marianne - France

Just 97 of all 8,124 candidates in the French departmental elections have a working class background. In his blog for the weekly magazine Marianne, historian Arthur Hérisson calls for the introduction of quotas for low and high-income political representatives: "Promoting equal presence for these two groups in local assemblies would be an effective way of attacking the political consequences of the economic inequalities that divide our country. ... And in certain cases a local mandate could serve as a springboard into the National Assembly or the Senate and bring about a renewal of the political class. By allowing the working class to take part in our country's legislatures, such a measure would diminish the gap that separates today's political class from much of the population. And it would allow the interests of the working class to be better represented than they are today." (31/03/2015)

MAIN FOCUS | 30/03/2015

Arab League backs Saudi military operation

At its summit meeting on Saturday in Sharm el-Sheikh, the Arab League backed the Saudi-led military operation against Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen. Commentators warn that the war could spread through the entire region and suspect the developments in Yemen are connected to the nuclear talks with Iran.

With articles from the following publications:
Iltalehti - Finland, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - Germany, Kurier - Austria, Milliyet - Turkey

Iltalehti - Finland

The fight against the Houthi rebels led by the Saudi Arabian coalition in Yemen poses a threat to the stability of the entire region, the tabloid newspaper IItalehti writes: "If the fighting intensifies and the participants get more help from abroad, the consequences will be unforeseeable. A key question is how the IS and al-Qaeda terrorist organisations react. They are both Sunni and therefore in principle on the same side as the Yemeni government, President Hadi and the US. It is also to be feared that the terrorist organisations will use the civil war for their own purposes and perhaps engage in acts of war. But while the others suffer from the repercussions of the war, they could also draw fresh impetus from it. However the most ominous question is how Iran will react if the Houthi rebels are left facing defeat. This is above all a fight for dominance of the region in which the other states are weak." (30/03/2015)

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - Germany

The intervention of the military coalition in Yemen bears a political and humanitarian risk, the conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung warns: "Should [the new Saudi King Salman] prove unable to reinstate the deposed president Hadi and to push back Iran, it would be an embarrassing start to his rule. Is it a coincidence that Saudi-Arabia is intervening in Yemen just as the negotiations on Iran's nuclear programme enter their decisive round? If the conflict in Yemen drags on for months, the civil war, as in Syria, would create millions of refugees. And they would have just one destination: Saudi Arabia." (30/03/2015)

Kurier - Austria

The timing of the intervention in Yemen is no coincidence, the tabloid Kurier believes: "The intervention is dangerous because Tehran supports its Houthi fellow believers in their bid to gain a foothold on the Arab peninsula. In the worst case this could culminate in a confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, both vying for dominance of the region. Moreover the intervention is dangerous because the conflict is also being waged as a religious war between Shiites and Sunnis and deepening the rift between these two strains of Islam. And finally the commotion of war on the Gulf is getting in the way of the nuclear talks with Iran in Switzerland, which are supposed to produce a framework agreement by tomorrow. But this disruptive impact is fully intended by Riyadh given that its royal family, together with Israel, is among the harshest critics of a deal with the mullah regime. The thinking behind this: if a compromise is achieved the sanctions would be scrapped and their rival would become even stronger." (30/03/2015)

Milliyet - Turkey

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signalled on Friday that he would support the Saudi-led military alliance in Yemen. Definitely the wrong move, columnist Asli Aydıntaşbaş criticises in the daily Milliyet: "This is an anti-democratic, dirty alliance based solely on religious denomination. Turkey's leaders know that the Saudis' only goal is to protect regimes and not allow democracy to gain a foothold in the Arab world. So what business is this of ours? ... It's one thing to contradict the people of Yemen, but quite another to intervene there hand in hand with putschists and oil kingdoms. Just last month Ankara said about Libya that civil wars should not be bombarded from outside the country. But when we're dealing with the Shiite enemies in Yemen, they're willing to support an attack." (30/03/2015)

MAIN FOCUS | 27/03/2015

Shattering revelations about plane crash

According to evidence from a cockpit voice recorder the co-pilot of the Germanwings plane deliberately downed the aircraft, a French prosecutor announced on Thursday. The press expresses shock and bafflement over the question of how such tragedies can be prevented in future. Some commentators however also warn against judging too rashly before all the facts are in.

With articles from the following publications:
Frankfurter Rundschau - Germany, Protagon - Greece, Libération - France, - Switzerland

Frankfurter Rundschau - Germany

In the wake of the Germanwings plane crash several German airlines have announced plans to step up their security regulations and ensure that at least two crew members are always present in a plane's cockpit. The left-liberal daily Frankfurter Rundschau agrees that this is an important step, but points out that even that won't guarantee absolute safety: "As much as they sympathise with the victims, technology sceptics may be reassured by the fact that the aircraft doesn't appear to have failed. Others are all the more shocked to realise that a person of authority whom we are forced to trust when we fly could abuse our trust in such a way. But neither the one nor the other will change anything about the fact that - no matter how much we deny it in self-defence - we can always fall victim to the acts of a madman. This is not reassuring. But perhaps accepting that danger is constantly present will ease our decision to go on the streets - or board an airplane - despite everything." (27/03/2015)

Protagon - Greece

The web portal Protagon speculates on the co-pilot's motives for deliberately crashing Germanwings flight 4U 9525: "If the pilot didn't leave a farewell letter we will never learn what was going on in his mind. At some stage we will forget this crime, the public eye will turn elsewhere without an answer coming to light. We will ask ourselves whether he saw something similar at the cinema and decided he wanted to experience it for himself. But we will also reflect on whether the blame is to be sought not just in his confused mind, but also as a product of the spirit of the times. Is it perhaps this spirit that demands that we call attention to ourselves? Everyone knows how to do that nowadays. Perhaps the rest of the world won't notice that you lived. But everyone will learn that you died." (27/03/2015)

Libération - France

As the Germanwings crash triggers widespread strong emotions, the left-liberal daily Libération makes an effort to be rational and draw useful conclusions from the tragedy: "It is a nightmare and an irony of history that locking the cockpit door - a security measure introduced after the 9/11 attacks - allowed the drama to unfold. Be that as it may, two lessons may be learned from the whole affair. The first is that no matter what technological progress we make, man will always be able to win out over machines…. This pre-eminence is both reassuring and terrifying. The second lesson is more constructive. Today the world has learned that once pilots receive their licenses they are no longer obliged to undergo psychological examinations, but only tests of their technical skills. Urgent action is called for here." (26/03/2015) - Switzerland

Immediately after the preliminary results of the investigation into the crash of the Germanwings aircraft were announced, details about the co-pilot spread through the Internet. The media blog on the website of the liberal-conservative daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung criticises the speculation and premature condemnation of the alleged perpetrator: "The prosecution in Marseille on Thursday released the name of the co-pilot who apparently was sitting alone in the locked cockpit when the Germanwings airliner crashed. Within instants his name spread through the digital channels of the news agencies, and anger brewed in the social networks. A clearly falsified twitter account has exposed the man to public abuse. The hunt has begun. No one asks whether the facts have been confirmed beyond all doubt or whether the French prosecution always speaks God's truth. And for their part all those who normally look askance at announcements by state officials have fallen silent. Reason, however, dictates that we apply a certain prudence in classifying, assessing and repeating breaking news." (26/03/2015)

MAIN FOCUS | 26/03/2015

Athens polishes up its reforms

After his visit to Berlin, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras plans to present the Euro Group with an updated reform plan by Monday at the latest. Tsipras must convince Greeks that reforms are long overdue, some commentators write. Others fear that by giving in on the debt issue he will push voters into the arms of the far-right parties.

With articles from the following publications:
Proto Thema - Greece, Blog Nachdenkseiten - Germany, Les Echos - France

Proto Thema - Greece

Domestic successes will give Tsipras more self-confidence in his dealings abroad, the liberal weekly paper Proto Thema believes: "The decisive factor now is how the government deals with undeclared income, the long list [of tax dodgers] and the billions of euros in foreign depots - in a word, how it plans to establish tax equity. ... Of course, also important is how it plans to improve people's lives, for example through the restructuring of public administration. ... The key issue now is whether the new government can maintain its moral advantage over all previous governments while in power. ... But in any case, the stronger it is at home, the more it can hope to achieve abroad." (25/03/2015)

Blog Nachdenkseiten - Germany

The Greek prime minister said during his visit to Berlin that "not only others were to blame" for Greece's problems. It is no mere coincidence that Tsipras is confronting his people with the question of their own mistakes now, journalist Niels Kadritzke comments on the blog portal Nachdenkseiten: "Because the government must pass and implement drastic, socially necessary and long overdue reforms very soon, it is obliged to develop a narrative of 'individual responsibility'. … If the Tsipras government wants to reinforce comprehension of the need for this reform programme it must enhance Greek society's ability for self-criticism. … A 'clear and direct' assessment of one's own situation and the homemade problems is a prerequisite for the Syriza government to make the fresh start that the governments of the old, worn-out parties never wanted or managed to make." (25/03/2015)

Les Echos - France

The fact that Greece will continue to adhere to the austerity measures can be read as a failure on the part of the Syriza government, the liberal business paper Les Echos comments, fearing that popular disappointment will lead voters into the arms of the far right: "Now that Greece's failure has closed the door on the left people may turn for solutions to the far right, which champions more freedom and a liberation from Europe's constraints. In the next elections Greeks will be tempted to vote for Golden Dawn, which wants to leave the Eurozone and expel immigrants. ... If the light breeze of recovery that is now blowing across the continent dies down and governments fail to find fast and efficient ways to keep Europe's promises, their enemies will have an easy time gaining the upper hand." (25/03/2015)

MAIN FOCUS | 25/03/2015

Plane crash in southern France

One day after the crash of a Germanwings Airbus A320 flying from Barcelona to Düsseldorf, French President François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will travel today to the crash site in the French Alps. The press is shocked by the tragedy and sees Europe united in grief.

With articles from the following publications:
Corriere della Sera - Italy, La Croix - France, Lidové noviny - Czech Republic, Savon Sanomat - Finland

Corriere della Sera - Italy

After the plane crash President François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will meet at the site of the crash today, Wednesday, to pay their respects. Europe is united in its grief, the liberal-conservative daily Corriere della Sera comments: "A good family knows how to come together in times of grief. And the European family - threatened from outside by violent fanatics and disparaged from inside by irresponsible populists - is showing in these hours that it isn't just a hodgepodge construction but truly stands together. For one day we have forgotten the things that divide us. We have known how to focus on what holds us together. Like in January, after the Paris attacks. We learn from pain." (25/03/2015)

La Croix - France

As long as the cause of the crash remains unclear the only thing to do is remember the victims, the Catholic daily La Croix writes: "If it did turn out that this tragedy was provoked by terrorists it would of course take on exceptional importance. But as we go to press there is still no proof of that. So the only thing to do is send out our thoughts to the victims. One spring day in Barcelona they boarded a plane to Düsseldorf. A banal trip like thousands of others every day. They came from Germany, Spain, and other countries. According to preliminary information two babies and 16 teenagers returning from a school exchange trip were on board. Since noon the lives of 150 families and their loved ones have been shattered forever. By an absurd accident in a corner of paradise." (24/03/2015)

Lidové noviny - Czech Republic

Is flying really safe? we ask ourselves automatically after every plane crash like the Germanwings one, the conservative daily Lidové noviny comments: "It is safe, the competent authorities and their statistics reply. And from a global perspective, they're right. In 1989 there were 35 tragic accidents; last year it was only eleven. … The average person compares planes with cars. The likelihood that you'll die in a car crash is 75 times higher than the likelihood of dying amidst the wreckage of a plane crash. So why are we less afraid to get into a car? Well, the numbers have a weakness. They don't take account of human psychology as it has evolved over tens of thousands of years of battling for survival. And that psychology tells us that in a car a human is more or less the master of his or her fate. Unlike in an airplane. That experience trumps all the statistics." (25/03/2015)

Savon Sanomat - Finland

After the crash of Germanwings Airbus A320, the liberal daily Savon Sanomat hopes for a full explanation of the cause: "The flying conditions at the site of the crash were apparently perfectly normal. ... Did the plane have a technical or a structural problem? Was it a terrorist attack? Why was it flying at an abnormally low altitude, and why did it deviate from its usual flight route? ... If there was a problem it must be brought to light, because similar problems could occur with other Airbus A320s. ... In addition, the safety practices of low-cost airlines must be scrutinised. If cheap flights become unsafe, many customers will presumably be willing to pay more if that means increasing their chances of arriving safely at their destination." (25/03/2015)

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