Farewell to Helmut

Farewell to Helmut

Farewell to Helmut

What the foreign papers are saying.
Sept. 30 1998 3:30 AM

Farewell to Helmut

Farewell to Helmut

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For Tuesday and Saturday morning delivery of this column, plus "Today's Papers" (daily), "Pundit Central" (Monday morning), and "Summary Judgment" (Wednesday morning), click here. And if you missed the most recent installments of this column, here they are: posted Friday, Sept. 25, and Tuesday, Sept. 22.

The toppling of old king Kohl, the longest-serving leader in any democracy, was received with great excitement across Europe, though less so in Germany than anywhere else. Everyone agreed that Helmut Kohl's departure marks "the end of an era," and this was even the headline on a front-page editorial Monday in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The paper noted that this was the last German election in which Bonn, not Berlin, was the focus of attention. It also noted that foreign governments would have preferred that Kohl win, because they fear that, with the move of its capital from the Rhine to the Spree, Germany will become "more German and less European." "Kohl would have been the best man to dispel these concerns," it said. "Now Schröder and Lafontaine [the victorious Social Democrat leaders] have to prove that they are Europeans too, West Europeans." The Frankfurter Allgemeine also pointed out that "never before has an election been fought in such an American style, with so much theatricality."

The Süddeutche Zeitung of Munich said it hopes this will be the last German election in which millions of residents aren't allowed to vote because of their immigrant status: "Democracy doesn't function when certain people are excluded." Die Welt challenged the comparisons being made between the next chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, and Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. "Blair reformed his party; Schröder didn't," it said. "Schröder has a Leftist, Lafontaine, behind him; Clinton doesn't." Nor was Schröder preceded in office by a Reagan or a Thatcher who imposed strict economic discipline. "Schröder has to do the unpopular things himself," Die Welt said.

In other West European countries, most of the editorial comment concentrated on Kohl's place in history. The conservative Le Figaro of Paris said Schröder has overthrown "a historic monument," a man who, following Thomas Mann's formula, worked "so that Germany would become European in order to avoid Europe becoming German." In Italy, La Repubblica said that Schröder will automatically assume the leadership of the social democratic governments in Europe (which include those of France, Britain, and Italy) because of Germany's "dominant weight." "With a wobbly America, a prostrate capitalist Asia, and two thirds of mankind facing the risk of retreat into poverty, there has never been so much need of a European model as today," it said.

In Britain, Kohl was praised as a figure of major historical importance, but his departure was welcomed by papers opposing greater integration of Britain into Europe. The tabloid Daily Mail said that "high on Herr Schröder's list is likely to be a forging of a closer alliance with Britain, not as a substitute for French influence but at least as a counterweight to it." The Financial Times said: "The two leitmotivs of Mr. Kohl's 16 years in office were European integration and German unification. It was his commitment to the former which ensured that Germany achieved the latter, without arousing the suspicion and hostility of its former wartime adversaries." In Spain, El País said the important thing is that Germany emerge from the economic paralysis of the past few years, "because we all know that what happens to Germany happens to some extent to all of Europe." El Mundo called Kohl a great statesman to whom Spain is grateful for his support of its entry into the European Union.

President Clinton has now receded from the front pages across most of the world, though the Press of Christchurch, New Zealand, carried an editorial Monday advocating his removal. "What now can be said in favour of Bill Clinton?" it began. "Not much." And it concluded, "[T]he President has no one to blame for his fate but himself. He has tarnished his office. His actions have earned him at best ridicule and at worst ignominy. Whenever he departs, he will leave a sad legacy."

La Stampa of Turin asked Woody Allen for his views on the White House scandal. It is "a rather sad spectacle" from which nobody will emerge victorious, he replied. Asked if he felt sympathetic toward the president, he said, "I feel a great sense of solidarity with everyone who finds himself under the scrutiny of the media, which in this case have behaved really badly."