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MAIN FOCUS | 12/09/2014

Obama presents strategy against IS

US President Barack Obama presented his strategy for countering the IS terrorist militia in an address to the nation on Wednesday. Airstrikes also in Syria, support for moderate Syrian rebels and a broad-based anti-terror coalition are meant to stop the Islamists' advance. Obama has learned the right lessons from previous US interventions, some commentators write in praise. Others complain that this change in strategy comes far too late.

With articles from the following publications:
Le Figaro - France, Sme - Slovakia, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - Germany, Der Standard - Austria

Le Figaro - France

Obama's new anti-terror strategy comes far too late, the conservative daily Le Figaro complains: "'Our goal is clear', the US president announced. But what comes next is less so. It is based on an unlikely coalition of countries with conflicting interests, all of which have at some point supported one or another of the players in the big Middle Eastern game. ... The plan foresees attacks in Syria that could have been carried out a year ago; support for a dying breed - the moderate Syrian rebels - which could also have been given months ago; and strengthening the Iraqi army, a measure that should have been carried out ten years ago. All this wasted time! ... The number of hot spots where intervention is needed is increasing. And Obama hasn't even dared to predict a short war." (11/09/2014)

Sme - Slovakia

Barack Obama has put himself in a very awkward situation, the liberal daily Sme observes: "The president's foreign policy is an example of how in the effort to avoid war at any cost you end up having to fight a war under much worse circumstances. One of the main reasons for the IS's success in Syria and then in Iraq was namely Obama's refusal to give the Syrian opposition military assistance. Then there was the premature withdrawal from Iraq. ... Once again we feel reminded of the Second World War when the reluctance of the Western democracies to stop Hitler right at the start meant that they had to fight him under far worse circumstances later. Now the US is in the same boat with Iran and Assad. Even if the Americans defeat the IS together with others, at the same time they risk strengthening two potentially highly dangerous dictatorships." (12/09/2014)

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - Germany

Obama's strategy of training moderate rebels in Syria and stepping up attacks from the air against the IS militias strikes the right balance, the conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes approvingly: "With this move Obama remains true to the strategic approach with which he wants to set himself apart from his much maligned predecessor: no major wars of intervention, and in their place airstrikes and support for allied security forces. ... Practically from the start this stance was criticised as weak, because the world's biggest military power could do much more if it wanted to. In fact, however, Obama has learned his lesson from the many failed interventions of the past twenty years. Above all in Muslim areas, instances of Western intervention ending well are few and far between. As an alternative model, his strategy of 'toughening up' local forces seems well worth a try." (12/09/2014)

Der Standard - Austria

Obama's speech was badly needed to justify the US's dramatic change of paradigms in the Middle East, the left-liberal daily Der Standard believes: "In Iraq the US is joining forces with Iran, and in Syria it is attacking an opponent of the Assad regime. At the start of the year that would have been absolutely unthinkable. ... Obama has no choice but to give his partners a sugar coating: he has no others. And he has to do quite a balancing act to bridge the gap between Iran and Saudi Arabia. ... Obama can't solve the problems in the region. The goal is to prevent the Islamic State from firmly establishing itself. If the order set up after the First World War were to break down - and everything points to that today - there must be no IS to fill the vacuum. That's in the interests of the US and the entire region." (12/09/2014)

MAIN FOCUS | 11/09/2014

Juncker revamps EU Commission

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker presented his new cabinet - which includes five former prime ministers - on Wednesday in Brussels. The Commission also features seven vice-presidents with special rights. Some commentators praise the selection as a strong counter-pole to the heads of state and government. For others it fails to mark a real fresh start in EU policy.

With articles from the following publications:
The Guardian - United Kingdom, Die Presse - Austria, Pohjalainen - Finland, De Morgen - Belgium, Mladá fronta Dnes - Czech Republic

The Guardian - United Kingdom

Jean-Claude Juncker has managed to put together a commission that cleverly distributes the posts among the member states and is studded with political heavyweights, the left-liberal daily The Guardian writes in praise: "At a time when the European Union faces formidable internal and external challenges, it is heartening to see the installation of what bids fair to be the most formidable commission for many years. Jean-Claude Juncker has lived up to his reputation as a skilled operator by crafting a team impressive in its collective political experience, cleverly balanced in its distribution of posts and ingenious in the way it matches national preoccupations with European responsibilities." (10/09/2014)

Die Presse - Austria

Juncker has banished Germany and France to the second row and made it clear to the heads of state and government who the boss is, the liberal-conservative daily Die Presse: "The former prime minister of Luxembourg has an advantage: he knows all the tactics in the circles of heads of state and government. And he also knows the weaknesses of the frequently one-dimensional power politics of these alpha wolves. So he will represent a threat to them. He already made it clear to the pack when introducing his team that the new commission is not a service station for domestic interests. ... The commission, his easily decipherable message went, doesn't want to administrate, it wants to create. ... For the next five years Juncker quite clearly wants to limit the leeway of the member states and reroute their various positions to turn them into a coherent European policy. His goal is to achieve more Europe not through more and more regulations but through concentrating more power in Brussels." (11/09/2014)

Pohjalainen - Finland

In addition to the 20 commissioners with specific portfolios, the new Commission also includes seven vice-presidents tasked with coordinating the work of the commissioners. The liberal daily Pohjalainen takes stock of the huge power invested in the positions: "It's a new form of organisation meant to give more structure to the work of the Commission. ... In practice the power of the vice-presidents can be seen in the fact that for example all the commissioners' proposals for directives must pass over their desks. If they want they can block any initiative. And if an initiative doesn't receive the vice-president's stamp of approval it will never reach the Commission president, who then can't put it on the Commission's agenda. The term 'super-commissioner' is by no means an exaggeration." (11/09/2014)

De Morgen - Belgium

This is not what political renewal looks like, the left-liberal daily De Morgen writes about the team selected by the new EU Commission chief: "Juncker made a few decisions that fuel fears that this Commission too will lead to the same old Europe rejected by the voters. It's embarrassing that he has given a British lobbyist control over the financial markets - or London City, to be precise. This is not just letting the cat get the cream; the cream is actually being trickled into its mouth. ... Combining growth with the recovery of the labour market is the biggest economic challenge for Europe now. So far the EU hasn't come up with a solution. This inability to do so explains the growing gap between the people and the political institutions. The commission cannot afford to ignore this task." (11/09/2014)

Mladá fronta Dnes - Czech Republic

Czech politicians have expressed their disappointment at the portfolio of Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality that Czech EU Commissioner Věra Jourová has been put in charge of. But the Czech Republic could hardly have expected more, the liberal daily Mladá fronta Dnes writes: "Věra Jourová is not a bad candidate. But right from the start it was wrong to believe that she would receive a truly influential position in the EU Commission. In the last ten years the Czech Republic has brought up the rear among the new EU members. It blocked everything it could block. The European fund which for example Poland saw as the chance of a century to make the leap into the present was regarded in the Czech Republic as nothing more than a chance to engage in criminal plundering. We haven't done a thing to bring the EU forward. Quite the contrary, we demonstrated exceptional egotism in the euro crisis." (11/09/2014)

MAIN FOCUS | 10/09/2014

MH17: The Netherlands presents its report

A Dutch commission on Tuesday presented its preliminary report on the crash of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine. While refraining from naming a definite cause, the investigators suggest the plane was shot down. Commentators explain the report's diplomatic tone with the desire not to jeopardise the fragile ceasefire, but are convinced that the separatists - and their backers in Moscow - are to blame.

With articles from the following publications:
Der Tagesspiegel - Germany, Corriere del Ticino - Switzerland, Pravda - Slovakia, Mladá fronta Dnes - Czech Republic

Der Tagesspiegel - Germany

In view of the many questions that the Dutch investigators' document leaves unanswered the term "preliminary report" takes on a whole new meaning, the liberal-conservative daily Der Tagespiegel comments: "It's also a preliminary mapping out of the zone between the fronts, perhaps written more diplomatically than would normally be the case, so as not to jeopardise what both sides are calling a 'ceasefire'. Despite the fact that this truce has not been properly observed, it's still the best news we've had from the region for some time. With this in mind, now is really not the time for tougher language - and even less so for pointing fingers. Unless, that is, we have irrefutable proof. But this will have to be found sooner or later, and both sides must do all they can to uncover it." (10/09/2014)

Corriere del Ticino - Switzerland

The preliminary report makes no mention of missiles but it leaves no doubts about the cause of the crash, the liberal daily Corriere del Ticino comments: "The Dutch Safety Board has toned down the content of its official explanation with diplomacy. Yet it contains explosive material. Because there can be no doubt about the true meaning of the carefully chosen words. They use different expressions to say the same thing all technical experts call the 'signature of missiles' during investigations. ... But diplomacy requires that the sensitive issue of the exact nature of the 'flying objects' be handled with kid gloves. Only further metallographic laboratory tests by independent experts will clarify this question." (10/09/2014)

Pravda - Slovakia

Although the preliminary report gives many indications of what happened on the day of the plane crash it will be virtually impossible to clarify the real cause, the left-leaning daily Pravda writes: "First of all, the Ukrainian army had no reason whatsoever to use anti-aircraft missiles simply because the rebels don't have any aircraft. Secondly, reports about the separatists downing Ukrainian fighter jets or transport aircraft were already common at the time when flight MH17 was shot down. In fact the separatists were always the first ones to brag about such acts. The third option is the most sensitive. Most people are ready to believe that the downing of the plane was a tragic mistake. But if it turned out that Russian officers used the Buk system, there could be no more talk of that. It would prove that Putin is lying. ... For now, however, there is even less hope of a definitive explanation than of peace in Ukraine." (10/09/2014)

Mladá fronta Dnes - Czech Republic

The preliminary report on the plane crash leaves the question of who caused it unanswered, the liberal daily Mladá fronta Dnes complains: "Everything points to the Malaysian plane having been shot down by separatists equipped with the modern Buk system from the Russian army's supplies. But conclusive evidence is lacking - for example a confession. That's not to be expected from the separatists or their bosses in the Kremlin anyway. Their actions have been built on lies right from the start. For example the lie Putin himself spread, according to which the disciplined soldiers armed with modern weapons but without insignia in Crimea were not Russian paratroopers. ... Immediately after the plane was shot down, leading separatists told the AP agency that it had been brought down by a team of rebels and Russian specialists who thought it was a Ukrainian military aircraft. ... Let anyone who doubts this go on doing so. They're clearly beyond help." (10/09/2014)

MAIN FOCUS | 09/09/2014

EU delays sanctions against Russia

The EU states have agreed on new sanctions against Russia in the Ukraine crisis. But rather than implementing them straight away they will wait to see whether the ceasefire is observed, Council President Herman Van Rompuy announced on Monday in Brussels. Commentators hail the consensus among the EU states, but also stress the need for continued cooperation with Russia.

With articles from the following publications:
Süddeutsche Zeitung - Germany, La Stampa - Italy, De Telegraaf - Netherlands, Blog EUROPP - United Kingdom

Süddeutsche Zeitung - Germany

Even if it's not clear when the sanctions will be imposed and one can argue if they are adequate, the resolution taken by the EU on Monday is the right approach, the left-liberal daily Süddeutsche Zeitung lauds: "Remarkable first of all is the fact that the governments of 28 countries with very different interests were able to agree on sanctions against Russia at all. That shows that a European foreign policy is possible, at least in a rudimentary form. The planned sanctions aren't directed at 'the Russians', but target specific people and the oil industry - or in other words the Putin system. Clearly the West has learned from former mistakes when its sanctions were too broad-based and above all hurt the general population. If Putin now wants to retaliate and punish the EU states - for example with air traffic restrictions - it will hurt. But that's the price that must be paid to make it clear that serious breaches of international law will not be tolerated." (09/09/2014)

La Stampa - Italy

The West must not rely on a strategy based solely on heaping sanctions on Putin's Russia, US political scientist Joseph S. Nye in the liberal daily La Stampa: "It is natural to feel angry at Putin's deceptions, but anger is not a strategy. The West needs to impose financial and energy sanctions to deter Russia in Ukraine; but it also must not lose sight of the need to work with Russia on other issues. Reconciling these objectives is not easy, and neither side would gain from a new Cold War. ... Despite Putin's aggressive use of force and blustery propaganda, Russia is a country in decline. Putin's illiberal strategy of looking East while waging unconventional war on the West will turn Russia into China's gas station while cutting off its economy from the Western capital, technology, and contacts that it needs." (09/09/2014)

De Telegraaf - Netherlands

The chairman of the biggest Dutch employers' association, Hans de Boer, has called for the sanctions against Russia to be eased saying they are not effective. A disgrace, the right-wing daily De Telegraaf comments: "Only a concerted and strong response can catapult President Putin and his clique back to reality and force them to submit. ... But clearly motivated by short-term economic interests, the chief of the employers' association believes the West should start a dialogue with Putin. And he's quite happy to give Crimea and perhaps even eastern Ukraine to the Russians. The lax stance of the employers is shameful and short-sighted. An end must be put to the power games of Putin and his troop. But history has taught us that giving in as De Boer wants to do won't bring lasting peace." (09/09/2014)

Blog EUROPP - United Kingdom

The crisis in eastern Ukraine is putting a heavy strain on the Russian economy so President Putin should do all he can to ensure the ceasefire holds, political scientist Ellie Knott writes on the London School of Economics' blog EUROPP: "A ceasefire is clearly in Russia's interests, with sanctions continuing to damage Russia's economy, and a lack of popular support for annexation. Russians are already realising that, in a fragile economy, inheriting Crimea was costly enough and inheriting Donetsk and Lugansk would incur even more costs, not least because of the sheer destruction that fighting has caused and because of the further sanctions Russia would incur as a result." (08/09/2014)

MAIN FOCUS | 08/09/2014

First majority for independent Scotland

With just eleven days to go before the referendum on Scotland's independence, 51 percent of Scots have voiced their support for it in the latest poll. The British government has said it will transfer more powers to Edinburgh if it stays in the UK. Commentators fear a victory for the nationalists would have disastrous consequences and hope the compromise will turn the mood in the last minute.

With articles from the following publications:
Corriere della Sera - Italy, Aamulehti - Finland, Tages-Anzeiger - Switzerland, The Times - United Kingdom

Corriere della Sera - Italy

Scotland doesn't stand to gain much from independence, but for the UK it would be disastrous, the liberal-conservative daily Corriere della Sera warns: "Independence could mean a leap into the unknown for Edinburgh, but the consequences for the rest of the country shouldn't be underestimated either. Left to itself, the rest of the UK would be a weakened power. Apart from the fact that Wales and Northern Ireland could follow Scotland's example, it's hard to imagine that Britain could hang on to its seat as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. England would forfeit its leading role on the international stage. What's more, an England ruled by the Conservative Party without a true opposition could make Britain's exiting the EU all the more likely, with the danger of the virtual border between Scotland and England becoming a very real one indeed." (08/09/2014)

Aamulehti - Finland

If the Scots vote for independence next week it may well give separatists in other regions of Europe fresh impetus, the liberal daily Aamulehti fears: "Belonging to the same state as the English, Welsh and Northern Irish hasn't prevented the Scots from preserving their national identity and even strengthening it in recent years. ... For outsiders it's therefore difficult to understand why these ancient bonds have to be broken now to form a new independent state. ... The pro-independence campaigners' chances of success already have the foreign exchange markets in turmoil. One can only speculate about what will happen if next week's plebiscite ends in a 'yes' vote. The instability wouldn't be confined to the island kingdom but would encourage other regions in Europe seeking independence." (08/09/2014)

Tages-Anzeiger - Switzerland

The results of opinion polls have made it clear to Scots that the United Kingdom could well be divided. But this could bring about a last-minute change of heart, the daily Tages-Anzeiger believes: "Things don't have to turn out like that. But if they do, Britain is on the verge of a truly dramatic upheaval. And Europe would be witness to the (re-)birth of a nation, this time not in the East, but in the old, sleepy north-west of the continent. The opinion polls must still be treated with caution, because in fact they could have just the opposite effect: fear of one's own courage. The shock of this weekend's news - 51 percent in favour of independence - could give potential yea-sayers cold feet on their way to the polling stations. That's what happened to the separatists in Québec in 1995, much to their dismay." (08/09/2014)

The Times - United Kingdom

British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne's concessions to the Scots come far too late, the conservative daily The Times criticises, but still hopes that they'll lead to a last-minute change in mood: "There is, without doubt, a risk that more devolution merely scotches the snake of nationalism rather than kills it, but the principle that power should be as close as possible to the people affected is a good one. Indeed, it would have been good for the Better Together campaign to have had changes to offer earlier in their campaign. ... The British political class is in a fight for which it seemed unprepared. It needs to find its voice, and some policy changes can help." (07/09/2014)

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