International Papers

“Time To Clear out the Eurotrash”

The mass resignation early Tuesday morning of all 20 members of the European Commission–universally characterized as the most serious institutional crisis in the 42-year history of the European community–dominated European papers Wednesday. The Brussels-based commission is responsible for the day-to-day affairs of the 15-member European Union and enforces EU law. An investigation into charges of fraud, corruption, and cronyism found evidence of incompetence, mismanagement, and loss of political control. Although one commissioner, former French Prime Minister Edith Cresson, was singled out for particularly strong criticism, commission President Jacques Santer said the body chose “by unanimity to resign collectively.”

{{Le Soir#2:}} of Belgium {{supported#2:}} the dramatic gesture of unity since “it is too late for half-measures or for soft, evasive answers” and claimed the resignations were needed because the commission “suffers from a democracy deficit and therefore a lack of legitimacy. … To counterbalance this [it] has to be perfect, spotless.” In contrast, the Euro-skeptic {{Times#2:}} of London speculated that the collective action might, in fact, represent a further avoidance of individual responsibility, and worried about the possible “renomination” of the entire commission (an idea floated by Santer Tuesday): “This supposedly cathartic drama could end up as a ‘Japanese’ purge, in which heads roll only to ensure that things continue much as before, with much the same discredited cast. That would be an outrage.”

France’s {{Le Monde#2:}} saw a silver lining in the crisis and {{said#2:}} the institution had to seize this opportunity to “clean up its administrative and financial habits, improve its decision-making process and, most of all, rediscover the inspiration and drive it has lost. This might even mean increasing its funding and staffing levels.” The {{Guardian#2:}} of London {{pointed out#2:,2763,30333,00.html}} that the commission’s problems were partly caused by the expansion of its responsibilities as it “found itself taking on ever more grandiose tasks, largely on the demand of member states, with progressively more limited resources. Yesterday’s report shows they did not know how to cope.”

Meanwhile, there is no resolution in sight. Germany and Britain want to replace Santer as soon as possible, while seven other countries would prefer him to remain as a “caretaker” until Dec. 31, 1999–the end of his term. Britain’s {{Independent#2:}} made its position clear in an {{editorial#2:}} Wednesday: “It is time to clear out the Eurotrash.”

In Ecuador, Monday’s reopening of the banks, after a week of government-ordered closure, put the population in the streets, as depositors queued to withdraw their funds and striking taxi drivers and bus operators blocked roads to protest a 165 percent increase in the price of gasoline. As Quito faced its third day of roadblocks Wednesday, {{Diario Hoy#2:}} {{reported#2:}} that the capital was in a state of paralysis with schools closed and provisions in short supply. {{El Telégrafo#2:}} of Guayaquil {{blamed#2:}} the uncertainty gripping the populace on politicians’ failure to discuss possible solutions to the crisis. “There has to be an opening and communication on the part of government. If it wants to achieve a national accord, it’s logical that it must display an openness to reconciliation.”

In Beijing, the state-run {{China Daily#2:}} pooh-poohed U.S. media reports about Chinese nuclear espionage at the Los Alamos laboratories. In an {{editorial#2:}} Wednesday, the paper claimed, “The ‘lab-theft’ story is bound to follow in the footsteps of the ‘political donations’ and ‘satellite secret leakage’ reports–to be forgotten within a few weeks after the claims cannot be substantiated.”

A story in {{Asahi Shimbun#2:}} of Japan revealed that Aum Shinrikyo, the cult that attacked the Tokyo subway with Sarin nerve gas in 1995, is enjoying a resurgence based in part on the financial security provided by a chain of successful computer stores affiliated with the group. The paper claims that the stores’ prosperity stems from their cheap prices, which are possible because believers work for next to nothing. A former member of the group told Asahi Shimbun that “Aum followers work there, and the job is considered part of religious training. Their salaries are therefore zero.” A “public security investigator” quoted by the paper speculated that Aum will “grow into a stronger and bigger organization with ironclad solidarity” when Fumihiro Joyu, a senior cult member, is released from prison in November.