International Papers

Last Call for British Binge Drinking?

The ruling center-rightist Popular Party’s surprise landslide victory in Spain’s general election Sunday dominated Monday’s European papers. The PP won an absolute majority in parliament, the first for a conservative party since the return of democracy following the death of Gen. Francisco Franco in 1975. Britain’s Guardian described it as “first and foremost a personal triumph for [Prime Minister] José María Aznar,” the party’s leader. The Independent of London said that Aznar confounded “the critics who reckoned that he was too ordinary to triumph” and that with this win “overnight he becomes a significant European player, well placed to act as a focus for the rallying of the European right.” Since the Popular Party is now freed from its reliance on a coalition of regional, nationalist parties to hold on to power, the Guardian warned that Aznar “will be closely watched for any sign of Margaret Thatcher-style free market excesses.”

Spanish papers stressed the ignominious defeat of the socialist-Communist opposition bloc. The conservative ABC editorialized that the election indicates that the new Spain, “represented by the more than 2 million young people who voted for the first time, no longer has any use for the old stereotypes of the right that [socialist leader] Joaquín Almunia and his advisers disseminated during the campaign.” The liberal daily El País agreed that the vote “corrected some of the most widely held stereotypes, the first of which is the leftist majority. … The most immediate lesson we can take from election night is that elections are won and lost in the center, and Aznar was most attractive to those voters.”

The Independent proclaimed that Aznar’s victory “shows how far the country’s political scene has been stripped of ideological content. Borne gently on a pillow of prosperity, Spaniards seem to have floated free from ideas to pursue pragmatic parcels of individual pleasures and personal advancement.” Turnout was around 70 percent, down 10 percent from 1996’s general election.

Pope John Paul II’s apology for sins of intolerance; sins against peace, women, Jews, and other non-Christian religions; and for the Roman Catholic Church’s failure to speak out against injustice topped the editorial hit parade. The Italian press focused on the liturgy’s content: Corriere della Sera of Milan revealed that the statement was toned down at the last minute by the introduction of “cautious language,” while Rome’s La Repubblica claimed that “words included to mitigate the fervor of the pope’s gesture were strewn throughout the document” in order to soften the shock to conservative Catholics.

Rupert Shortt, a prominent Catholic journalist, wrote in a Guardian  op-ed Monday that the pope’s statement revealed “deep contrasts and contradictions in John Paul’s character.” He asked how the apology could be reconciled with the Vatican’s recent announcement of the impending beatification of Pope Pius IX, “a notoriously anti-Semitic 19th century pontiff.” The current pope is prevented by the doctrine of papal infallibility from criticizing a predecessor, a tenet he chooses not to challenge. Shortt concluded, “His approach to saint-making … is as clear a mark of his conservative agenda as the Vatican’s regular silencing of independently minded theologians has been.” The Times of India said that there are “legitimate fears that apology-mongering may become yet another national pastime for the more volatile elements” within society and claimed that a plural culture such as India’s should be immune to such divisions: “A shared past implicates us all; it makes no distinction between the pure and the tainted.”

The Times of London led Monday with the government’s plans to relax the pub licensing laws of England and Wales. Currently, all pubs must close at 11 p.m., and the new regime’s objective is to stagger closing times in hopes that “greater flexibility will stop the binge drinking in the final hour that often results in hooliganism, violence and drink-driving.” An editorial said that “unfriendly drinking hours are an unnecessary constraint on the development of the leisure industry” and that Britain’s reputation as a “nest of binge-drinkers and lager louts” stems from the current system, which leads Brits to “line up their pints along the bar and imbibe as heavily as possible during the limited time permitted. At closing time, with tempers frayed by alcohol and the last-orders crush at the bar, they are then ejected into the streets at once to compete for taxis and queue for nightclubs.” The “drinking age” in Britain is 18, though the new proposals would also permit 16- and 17-year-olds to drink beer, wine, or cider with meals, provided they are supervised by an adult. In England, there are many such experienced supervisors.