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Big press for EU ‘big three’ summit

BERLIN, Feb 19 (AFP) – The European press was deeply divided Thursday in its reaction to the Franco-German-British summit, split as to whether the larger threat to Europe is a powerful triumvirate or a lack of leadership.

The German press gave the meeting largely positive reviews, saying the 15-nation European Union needed a new impetus after the failure of a December summit to finalize a first-ever constitution and before it welcomes 10 new member states in May.

“The three countries are trying to fill the vacuum which has caused inertia since the failed Brussels summit,” said the conservative broadsheet Die Welt.

The center-left Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel said the inclusion of Britain in the traditional Franco-German axis lent new credibility to the alliance which may help foster an agreement on the constitution.

But eurosceptic newspapers in Britain saw it as damaging for Prime Minister Tony Blair to be part of a new EU directorate.

“Mr Blair desperately wants to be part of this cosy partnership between Paris and Berlin,” wrote the Sun’s political editor, Trevor Kavanagh.”But he will always be on the fringe of a remote, unaccountable and undemocratic EU – run by Germany and France, not Britain.”

The top-selling broadsheet, the Daily Telegraph, said however that Britain had never appeared more at the heart of Europe than at Wednesday’s summit.Blair has “put himself squarely at the heart of European decision-making …. by breaking into the Franco-German axis and persuading it to speed up economic reform.”

In France, the conservative Figaro said critics of the summit such as Italy and Spain had been making “a mountain out a molehill” while the left-leaning daily Liberation said the big three were aiming to serve the interests of all of Europe, not just their own.

But Sweden’s Social Democratic tabloid Afgtonbladet called the Berlin summit “deeply worrying,” saying it “paves the way for a Europe where the three largest countries set the agenda for the entire EU, where they choose to deepen their cooperation on their own without any concern at all for the other 22 members”.

The center-left Danish daily Politiken, however, noted the conciliatory tone taken by the three to soothe critics.

“The big three said ‘We are not trying to dominate anyone but simply give good advice. We want to give an impetus to infuse more dynamism in the EU’,” it said.

And Belgium’s conservative De Standaard said Europe needed more leadership as opposed to less: “The biggest danger coming from an informal directorate is not that it becomes too powerful but that its unity and magnetism may be insufficient to truly lead the EU.”

But the Czech newspaper Dnes accused the three of trying to usurp leadership of the EU.

“The meeting of the three most powerful men on the continent revealed what one can expect of an enlarged Europe: the big players such as France, Germany and Britain are going to increasingly impose their interests to the detriment of the small countries,” it said.

Papers in Hungary, another of the former communist countries joining the bloc in May, were divided.

Centrist paper Magyar Hirlap ran the headline “Exclusive EU Summit in Berlin” while the center-left daily Nepszabadsag took a more positive view, headlining “Suggestions Instead of Dictates”.

And the press in Portugal, another critic of the triumvirate, also took opposing views on the assurances of the three leaders.

Under the headline “A risky meeting for Portugal and the EU,” Portuguese newspaper Jornal de Noticias said “the preoccupation of the big countries consecrates the inequality between the states.”

But the daily Publico was less suspicious. “Are there reasons to be alarmed? Most analysts say no. No one disputes that a Europe so vast and diverse needs political leadership.”


                                                              Subject: France news