International Papers

Funny Money


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“The euro is born. Long live the euro!” declared Le Monde Tuesday, celebrating the birth in Brussels over the weekend of the single European currency. The Paris newspaper led its front page with the headline “Euro: outrage in Germany,” referring to the “violent attacks” in the German press against the compromise agreed between Germany and France over the presidency of the new European Central Bank, which will manage the euro. Dutch central banker Wim Duisenberg, the candidate supported by all European Union members except France, will “voluntarily” serve only half of his statutory eight year term and will then be replaced by the governor of the Bank of France, Jean-Claude Trichet.

This compromise, held by many critics to be in contravention of the terms in the Maastricht Treaty for establishing the single currency, was described in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung as “a shadow over monetary union” and in the German business newspaper Handelsblatt as horse-trading that would encourage the Euroskeptics in Germany. The popular Bild Zeitung called the birth of the euro in these circumstances “a forceps delivery.”

But like the German newspaper Die Welt, which titled its editorial “An Historic Day,” Le Monde said the compromise shouldn’t overshadow history. “Never mind that it has humiliated the man without whom the euro wouldn’t have seen the light of day, Chancellor Helmut Kohl.” “Never mind that it has shaken one of the last great European leaders … that it has given arguments to his social democrat opponents only a few months from the September elections. … That’s everyday Europe. The most important, the essential, the historic thing is the creation of the euro.”

The Italian press was seized with euro excitement. La Repubblica of Rome led Tuesday with news of a stock-exchange boom across Europe, under the headline “Euphoria in the markets,” and reported from London that the new currency had already been given a market value of $1.124. It also carried an article from Brussels predicting–despite U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin’s statements to the contrary–that the euro would threaten the primacy of “the king dollar.” Reporting lack of enthusiasm from the Vatican, La Repubblica said church officials feared it would necessitate modifications to the concordat governing relations between Italy and the Holy See. Italy’s leading newspaper, Corriere della Sera of Milan, pointed out in a front-page comment that Rome was the only city in Europe to organize a municipal party to celebrate the birth of the euro.

In Britain, which has excluded itself from the single European currency for the time being, the main headlines Tuesday were about the unsuccessful Middle East peace talks in London, though the liberal Guardian’s main editorial was an attack on France for its insistence that a Frenchman should run the new European Central Bank. “No one comes out of it well, least of all Jacques Chirac, President of France who, like a bullyboy in the playground, picked up the ball and refused to play on until everyone agreed to his terms,” it said.

The conservative Daily Telegraph said in an editorial that the pressure was not on Benjamin Netanyahu to reach an accommodation but on Yasser Arafat to convince Netanyahu that “he would be a dependable neighbour” and guarantee Israel’s safety. As the talks move to Washington next week, the Telegraph said only the United States was in a position to mediate a final deal. “[I]ts subsidies throughout the region give it a clout that Europe lacks and, unlike the EU, it is regarded as tough on terrorism, the issue on which the process will ultimately stand or fall,” the editorial concluded.