Article published the Sunday 18 December 2011 - Latest update : Sunday 01 January 2012

European press review

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By Lorne Cook

We start this week in Britain, with the reaction to Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to veto European Union efforts to modify its main treaty. His historic move put an end to one plan to prevent problems like the debt crisis from happening again in the future.

Cameron’s actions at the EU summit on 9 December made him a hero of most of the national press, which praised him for defending British interests.

But a few, like The Independent, say the premier deeply isolated Britain. It will be cast as a villain by its neighbours and its departure from the EU is no longer unthinkable, the left-leaning daily says.

The PM wants to make the UK a kind of Cayman Islands, enjoying the benefits of Europe’s single market but not subject to EU rules. The rest of Europe can now agree on positions affecting Britain and impose them with a majority vote. The UK’s interests demand that it should be at the centre of the EU. Britons will doubtless stand proud, like the Cayman Islands, minus the weather, the paper says.

Turning to Russia, where a billionaire has announced that he plans to challenge Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the March presidential elections, you may recall that a few rich Russians are now either in prison or in exile.

So why would a man like Mikhail Prokhorov take the risk of annoying Putin? According to Finnish daily Aamulehti, the oligarch’s candidacy is actually another Kremlin plot. Prokhorov has surfaced from nowhere, to become the former president’s ‘rival, says the daily from Russia’s tiny and wary neighbour. It claims that he will help to soothe the anger of citizens, as will another party which has just been founded to placate the masses. It’s not the first time. The Kremlin has created its own pet opposition parties in the past. But Russians are so critical at the moment, that people should be able to see through this ploy, the paper says.

Another big story this week was the announced end to the war in Iraq, as the last US troops pulled out of the country.

More than eight years after a US-dominated coalition of countries drove north to Baghdad from Kuwait to topple Saddam Hussein, Washington declared that the war is over. Czech daily Lidove Noviny marks the occasion, noting that there will be no more wars of this kind as long as Barack Obama is in office. The conservative paper says the US has been fighting wars on two fronts, including the one in Afghanistan. But don’t expect it to get too deeply involved in Iran. Libya serves as an example: Obama is now likely to rely on his Nato allies to lead the way on the battlefield, while the US provides air support and knowhow in a more behind the scenes role.

Italian former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi may have left office, but his legacy lives on.

According to La Repubblica, one of his more sinister legacies has been the rise of xenophobia. The paper points to the killing of two Senegalese men at a market in Florence this week by a gunman with far-right sympathies. And last weekend, an angry mob set fire to a Roma settlement in Turin, after a girl claimed – falsely it turns out – that she had been raped by a gypsy.

The left-liberal daily says Italy is not only on trial in Brussels for its debt problems, it must also prove that it is a civilised country. These incidents show how widespread the virus of racism and xenophobia is. The last government rode a wave of populism, and used the false threat of foreigners to scare Italian citizens. Italy, the paper says, must deal with the stain that the Berlusconi government left on the collective consciousness.

And we end this week in Belgium, where people are being asked to act as language police.

That’s right. Belgium’s linguistic divide appears to have deepened.

French-language daily Le Soir says that Flemish authorities in the town of Grimbergen have set up a “signal point” where people are encouraged to inform on anyone using a language other than Dutch in public spaces and businesses.

Even restaurants are not supposed to have menus in two languages, as that might undermine the Flemish character of the town. The paper reports that some local officials believe the move contravenes the Belgian constitution and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. A francophone member of the European Parliament wants the European Commission and its commissioner responsible for rights to take action. Apparently people will still be allowed to use other languages in private.

tags: Belgium - Economic crisis - European press review - European Union - Eurozone - France - Germany - Italy - Language - Press review - Russia - Silvio Berlusconi
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