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MAIN FOCUS | 27/02/2015

Paris given more time to economise

The EU Commission on Wednesday reached its decision on the budgets of the member states. France will have until 2017 to deal with its problems, but still faces deficit proceedins, while Italy and Belgium have avoided such proceedings. Finally the EU has distanced itself from the strict austerity policy, some commentators write in approval. Others criticise Europe for double standards regarding crisis states.

With articles from the following publications:
De Volkskrant - Netherlands, Le Soir - Belgium, Handelsblatt - Germany, La Stampa - Italy

De Volkskrant - Netherlands

Once again the terms of the stability pact have been overtaken by the reality of the situation, the left-liberal daily De Volkskrant laments: "It is not the member states but Mario Draghi, the president of the ECB, who deserves credit for the fact that the euro is no longer unstable. ... In principle, however, Draghi is working against the stability pact. It was supposed to keep inflation low and the euro strong. But Draghi wants to boost inflation and weaken the euro to stimulate exports. And to that end, the ECB is even willing to purchase government debt. Now interest rates are so low that the states would be silly not to take out new loans. There is no incentive whatsoever to save. As long as the ECB pursues this policy, any disciplinary measures must come from politicians. They, however, have demonstrated again and again that this is simply beyond them. And so the stability pact is nothing but a farce." (27/02/2015)

Le Soir - Belgium

The European partners have not been as stringent with France as they have with other euro crisis states, the liberal daily Le Soir writes and explains why: "An important member state - or one located at the 'heart of Europe' - carries more weight than a small or 'peripheral' country. Furthermore the situation is exacerbated by the threat posed by the Front National. If the French governments (conservatives and Socialists alike) have continually put off painful measures, it's to avoid provoking either popular protests or potential supporters of the FN. And these dangers also explain why France's European partners (the EU Commission, Germany, etc.) always end up yielding. It makes you want to give Churchill's phrase a new twist: by not making the choice between reforms and the FN, France will have both reforms and the FN. And as for Europe, it has once again reinforced the unpleasant truth that it measures countries with different yardsticks." (27/02/2015)

Handelsblatt - Germany

The French Finance Minister Michel Sapin is to present plans for new austerity measures and reforms to the Euro Group in May. If he doesn't his colleagues in other euro states will crank up the pressure, the liberal business daily Handelsblatt predicts: "Sapin really doesn't have that many allies left in the Euro Group. Spain and Portugal have hurried ahead and even Italy is tackling its long overdue reforms with more courage than France. ... According to the Stability Pact France would have certainly had to pay the fine by now. But on this point the pact is really unrealistic. It doesn't make sense to weaken a country that is already struggling financially even more with a fine. ... The Eurozone has no choice but to maintain the pressure on the government in Paris and wade through many more laborious discussions with the French minister of finance." (27/02/2015)

La Stampa - Italy

Finally the EU has stopped stubbornly insisting on the austerity policy, the liberal daily La Stampa writes commenting on the EU Commission's decision: "The ruling on our economic policy confirms that things are taking a positive turn in the Eurozone. Instead of blindly clinging to a schematic and counter-productive fiscal discipline, the country is being called on to reform. Under the original rules of the Fiscal Compact that was passed amidst fears of a debt crisis Italy would have failed - on the false grounds that its austerity policy wasn't stringent enough. Thanks to the new interpretation of the Stability Pact as revised by Jean-Claude Juncker and his colleagues during Italy's EU Council presidency we have been granted a reprieve - whereby the right has been reserved to reprimand the country in a sensible way." (27/02/2015)

MAIN FOCUS | 26/02/2015

New rules for Austria's Muslims

The Austrian parliament on Wednesday passed reforms to its Islam law, redefining the rights and obligations of Muslims living in the country. Among other things the law bans funding for Muslim communities from abroad. Vienna is attempting to establish a local brand of Islam, some commentators write approvingly. Others criticise the law for casting a shadow of suspicion over all Muslims.

With articles from the following publications:
Der Standard - Austria, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - Germany, Público - Portugal

Der Standard - Austria

The law fans prejudices and looks more like a security measure, the left-liberal daily Der Standard criticises: "The government wants to enforce a sort of Islam with Austrian features. The question is whether it can achieve that with this law. Some passages lead one to believe that it's more about security than religion. It casts a shadow of suspicion over all Muslims. In these times when concrete threats are giving way to generalised, diffuse fears, prejudices are only being reinforced. Danger, extremism and perhaps also terror go hand in hand with Muslims in Austria - or so the law would have us believe. Such an assumption does not provide a good basis for a spirit of cohabitation that could dispel such fears. Both sides feel menaced, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The government in Vienna has failed to hit the right note." (26/02/2015)

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - Germany

Austria is right to call on its Muslims to establish their own brand of Islam, the conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung claims: "For the guiding principle behind the law - 'Islam belongs to Austria' - to meet with broad acceptance the Islam practised in Austria will have to distance itself more from the Islam practised in Muslims' countries of origin. The paragraphs in the law according to which state law takes precedence over religious law and Muslims must profess their commitment to the state and society in which they live are non-negotiable. An Islam that is compatible with the reality of Muslims' life here in Austria is also needed. What Austria wants is what all Europe wants: for Muslims to create a local form of Islam, ultimately a European Islam. That would also mean that imams are no longer sent from Turkey in the same numbers they have been so far and that money to finance mosques is no longer accepted from countries like Saudi Arabia." (26/02/2015)

Público - Portugal

The ban on foreign financing for Muslim associations and mosques contravenes the equality of religions before the law and could prove counter-productive in the fight against Muslim radicalism, the liberal daily Público worries: "Some changes are being welcomed by the local communities, for example the recognition of religious holidays. ... But there is also a change that incited fierce protests: the ban on mosques and imams receiving financial support from abroad, something which Christian and Jewish communities are free to do. Austria is mistaken if it believes that this will reduce the terrorist threat. If the rights of moderate Muslims are curtailed and they are put under stronger surveillance the pressure of radicalism won't be reduced. In fact the opposite may occur." (26/02/2015)

MAIN FOCUS | 25/02/2015

Athens gets money again

The Eurozone's finance ministers approved Athens' reform programme on Tuesday. After the decision the creditors held out the prospect of extending the bailout payments until the end of June but demanded improvements to the proposals. For some commentators Greece has capitulated. Others write that the government now has a unique opportunity to reform the country.

With articles from the following publications:
Il Sole 24 Ore - Italy, De Telegraaf - Netherlands, Dimokratia - Greece, Delo - Slovenia

Il Sole 24 Ore - Italy

Now that the EU has forced Athens into submission it should take a softer approach with Greece, the liberal business paper Il Sole 24 Ore comments: "Tsipras's Greece has mournfully raised the white flag to avoid bankruptcy and a Grexit. But now the country faces a new dilemma: How to reconcile the decision of a responsible and disciplined EU partnership with control of Syriza's party base, which is openly rebelling against the prime minister? The one-month-old coalition government led by Tsipras will come under major pressure in the parliamentary vote on the reforms. Political instability and even new elections are in the cards. The Eurozone could soon be faced with a new Greek crisis that is no easier to deal with. No one will gain anything by insisting on the iron fist approach towards Athens, particularly now that the far-left government has capitulated." (25/02/2015)

De Telegraaf - Netherlands

Greece's reform proposals are just pretty words for now, the conservative daily De Telegraaf warns: "The political decision to keep the country in the Eurozone was crucial for the approval - that much is clear. Because in terms of content the six A4-sized pages on which the flimsy plans are laid out leave much to be desired. Mario Draghi and his IMF colleague Christine Lagarde, among others, have made this clear in their biting letters. They remain very unconvinced that the long list of Greek promises is realistic and practicable. ... So the stance must be to see before we believe. In the coming months the pressure on Athens must be maintained in full and the country prevented from slipping back into half-hearted measures. If Europe doesn't do this the Greek chaos and the threat of a Grexit will come hurtling back towards us in the summer like a boomerang." (25/02/2015)

Dimokratia - Greece

The left wing of the Syriza party has voiced strong criticism of the compromise with the Euro Group on an extension of the bailout programme. But that's out of place, the conservative daily Dimokratia comments: "Those who criticise the government fail to see that the people in this country didn't want to worsen their situation [by breaking with Europe], but on the contrary were resolved to improve it. They fail to recognise that the people who voted for Syriza aren't Stalinists, Maoists or agitators in disguise, but the former middle class. ... The government has committed itself to doing all it can to keep the common currency, for many reasons. Exiting the Eurozone could end in a real tragedy." (24/02/2015)

Delo - Slovenia

Athens' fierce resistance in the negotiations over new bailout payments could also guarantee that the Greek government will be able to count on the people's support in implementing the necessary reforms, the left-liberal daily Delo writes hopefully: "If we believe in an optimistic scenario the Syriza government may succeed where the old political elite failed miserably. Despite the left-wing rhetoric, with Europe's help the government may be able to push through the necessary neo-liberal reforms. This could make Greece, which is hostage to cronyism, competitive once more and release it from perpetual dependence on foreign aid and loans. Just as the Republican Richard Nixon became the first US president to visit communist China, Syriza may be able to convince the people of the advantages of the reform policy they so despised." (25/02/2015)

MAIN FOCUS | 24/02/2015

Athens' reform plans under scrutiny

Experts of the EU Commission, ECB and IMF will assess the list of reforms presented by the Greek government today, Tuesday. The euro finance ministers will then decide this afternoon whether to approve further bailout payments. But the devil is in the detail as regards the implementation of the reforms, commentators warn, and observe that Greece is worse off after the compromise with its creditors than before.

With articles from the following publications:
Naftemporiki - Greece, Diário Económico - Portugal, The Irish Times - Ireland, La Tribune - France

Naftemporiki - Greece

The fight for Greece has only just begun with the presentation of the list of proposed reforms, the conservative daily Naftemporiki believes: "The ceasefire is over, and today the government will once again step onto the 'battlefield'. ... The fact that it's as good as certain that the reform list will be accepted doesn't mean a thing. Because the real challenge is only starting. The institutions - that is the EU, IMF and ECB - don't want theory, they want numbers. They want to see measures introduced. ... Even working on the assumption that they won't call for new austerity measures and will accept the entire package of humanitarian aid, they'll want to see a detailed cost calculation of how the 'black holes' can be filled in." (24/02/2015)

Diário Económico - Portugal

Athens is in an worse position after reaching a provisional agreement with the Euro Group than it was before, the liberal daily Diário Económico concludes: "The confrontations of the last few weeks have hurt Athens and the euro - and what for? Syriza has been forced to scrap its election and government agenda, return to the troika's embrace, and now it must deliver. ... In short: everything is as it was before except that the yields on three-year Greek government bonds have risen by 20 percent, the Greeks are taking even more money out of their bank accounts, the banks are on the brink of bankruptcy and foreign investors will be even more reluctant to return. And worse still, Syriza had encouraged such great expectations that the Greeks' sense of self-worth - even that of the most radical and militant - has now hit rock bottom. Syriza promised a lot but will deliver little. The fact is that reality is stronger than imagination." (23/02/2015)

The Irish Times - Ireland

The tug of war between the new Greek government and its EU partners shows that Syriza is at least putting up a fight to achieve its goals, the left-liberal daily The Irish Times writes in appreciation: "After years of flailing around, Greece is providing an interesting test case. There's something very appealing about Greece's current rebellious streak. Everyone loves a rebel, an underdog and a comeback, and Greece is now two of those. ... Syriza seems at least to be pushing for something. There is an inherent attraction to watching a country in the euro zone seek its sovereignty, especially from an Irish perspective since control over our own affairs was outsourced." (23/02/2015)

La Tribune - France

The conflict lines in the euro crisis do not run between nations, as one might think, but between social groups, the liberal business paper La Tribune contends: "The dividing line that really counts, and which must be clearly identified so it be combated more effectively, is the one that separates the business world and financial elites (who have for the most part benefited before, during and after the crisis) from the masses of middle-class employees and workers in Germany, France, Greece and other countries. In other words, within Europe a merciless war is raging between economic groups and castes, and not between nations. To understand this is to already take a step towards a solution while hindering the rise of the far right." (23/02/2015)

MAIN FOCUS | 23/02/2015

Provisional compromise in debt crisis

Athens and the euro finance ministers have agreed on the continuation of bailout payments to Greece for the next four months. The Greek government sent a list of proposed reforms to its negotiating partners on Sunday evening. Commentators see the compromise as a defeat for the government of Alexis Tsipras, though some believe the Syriza leader can now expect a more accommodating stance in the next round of talks.

With articles from the following publications:
El Huffington Post - Spain, Welt am Sonntag - Germany, Blog Pitsirikos - Greece, Irish Independent - Ireland, Foreign Policy - U.S.

El Huffington Post - Spain

The deal struck on Friday between Athens and the Euro Group simply means the new Syriza government has gone back on its election pledges, director of the Fundación Alternativas Carlos Carnero surmises in El Huffington Post. "It can really all be summed up in one sentence: after winning the election Syriza declared the bailout programme signed by the preceding governments invalid only to accept it in all points on February 20. And unless it completely reverses its tactics and Europe strategy it will do the same with the third bailout package. Tsipras had overlooked several factors - among others the fact that his government is no more legitimate than those in the rest of the Eurozone." (23/02/2015)

Welt am Sonntag - Germany

After the compromise reached on Friday, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras can hope to encounter a greater spirit of cooperation in future negotiations with the Euro Group, the conservative Sunday paper Welt am Sonntag believes: "A real debt cut is unlikely, but even longer maturities and lower interests on the bailout loans are not. The current compromise seems to bear more the rather pragmatic signature of Angela Merkel than that of her tough Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, and there are plenty of indications that Europe will be ready to take more such steps. If it can prevent Tsipras from reversing important structural reforms and stopping Greece's nascent achievements in their tracks, it could well pay off. Because only when it's once more competitive will Greece have any chance at all of paying back at least part of its loans. So Tsipras's spectacular defeat in round one could well be followed by victories in rounds two and three." (22/02/2015)

Blog Pitsirikos - Greece

Savings deposits in Greece are at their lowest level since the start of the crisis in 2009, according to media reports. No matter how much they demonstrate in support of their government, the people are only stabbing it in the back by sending hundreds of millions of euros out of the country every day, blogger Pitsirikos writes,: "There was no need at all for the EU partners to [make the Greek afraid] by causing a liquidity problem for the banks. The Greeks have done it all on their own. At the same time they're calling on the government to put up a fight at the negotiations. But anyone who believes they're strengthening the government's negotiating hand by taking their money from the bank - and thinks the Germans and other EU partners won't notice -, has no idea how things work. We citizens also took part in the negotiations, even if most Greeks believe they don't participate in anything." (21/02/2015)

Irish Independent - Ireland

Europe should be grateful to Berlin for bringing Greece back in line in the debt negotiations, the conservative daily Irish Independent writes: "Europe and Greece will resume negotiations this week. The stakes are high, as everybody seems to agree, but the outcome is still inevitable. The programme, in name or not, has been extended and make no mistake, Greece will continue to be held to the flame - and not just by Germany. ... Three years ago, the then Polish foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, said there was one thing that scared him more than German action and that was German inaction. Last week we saw German action - again. The rest of Europe should take heed and be thankful." (22/02/2015)

Foreign Policy - U.S.

The austerity policy imposed by Berlin is having disastrous consequences for all Europe and must be stopped, the US magazine Foreign Policy argues: "The policy stance set by Angela Merkel's government in Berlin, implemented by the European Commission in Brussels, and sometimes tempered - but more often enforced - by the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt, remains disastrous. Continuing with current policies - austerity and wage cuts, forbearance for banks, no debt restructuring or adjustment to Germany's mercantilism - is leading Europe into the ditch. ... So settling for a 'compromise' that shifts Merkel's line by a millimeter would be a mistake; it must be challenged and dismantled." (22/02/2015)

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