With George W. Bush enjoying an eight-point lead over Al Gore, according to a Los Angeles Times poll, European liberals are starting to be alarmed by the idea of a Dubya presidency. Hugo Young, the Guardian of London's chief political columnist, called it "an ugly prospect." He wrote Thursday: "Ronald Reagan seems by comparison like a genial old boy of moderate disposition who didn't quite know what he was doing. … As an alternative to Clinton, Bush seems to embody a tenth of the natural intelligence, and not obviously more of the famous 'integrity' which McCain and the right pretend he will bring back to the White House." Bush had made millions more out of insider share dealing than Clinton could ever have gotten out of Whitewater, Young said, complaining that Bush's policy priorities are determined by his adoration for the corporate world.
"This is not a man driven unwillingly to keep political clients sweet, but one who would bring to the White House the most explicit anti-environment prejudices any president has ever had," he went on. "Seldom has a candidate's trimming to the centre seemed so unconvincing, softly though he talks and amiable though he looks and pedigreed though he is. … [T]he final legacy of Clinton's folly may be upon us. Desperate to exorcise him, and burning for vengeance, Republicans will pay any price to elect a man without qualities, save deep pockets and an empty smile—and a set of prejudices that will seriously upset the world."
The Guardian also reported a narrowing to 8 percent in a private poll of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's lead over the Conservative opposition leader William Hague, almost half what it was only a month ago. Hague, who has lately toughened his approach to law and order and immigration, now believes that a general election victory next year is within his grasp, the paper said.
Le Monde of Paris led its front page Thursday with a proposal by former French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing to cut the French presidential term of office from seven to five years. The seven-year mandate was laid down in the constitution of the Fifth Republic in 1958, tailor-made for the "republican monarchy" of Gen. Charles de Gaulle. Any change is opposed by the current president, Jacques Chirac, who has been in office for five years already and could carry on for another nine if he is re-elected in two years' time. Giscard d'Estaing said the time for constitutional reform has come: "Public opinion is massively behind the idea [backed by 78 percent in the latest opinion poll]; the bulk of political leaders in both the government and opposition have taken up positions in support of the change. It only remains to get things going." The proposal, if approved by parliament, would have to be submitted to the French people in a referendum.
After the first cracks appeared in the European Union's previously united stance on sanctions against Austria at a foreign ministers' meeting last weekend, El País of Madrid reported Thursday that France would maintain them during its six-month presidency of the EU, which starts in July. Much more controversially, the satirical French magazine Le Canard Enchainé has quoted President Chirac as saying that he would also call for European sanctions against Italy if the right-wing opposition alliance led by media mogul Silvio Berlusconi were to come to power. The alliance includes the former neo-fascist party, which has since disowned the inheritance of Benito Mussolini. Right-wing Italian politicians have expressed outrage, and the Élysée Palace has denied the report. But LeCanard Enchainé insists it is correct and promises to reply to the denial in its next issue.
As the situation in Sierra Leone continues to deteriorate, with 500 U.N. peacekeeping troops still being held as hostages by anti-government rebels and a military showdown expected imminently at a place called Waterloo near the capital, Freetown, Le Monde ran an emotional editorial calling for the arrest and trial of the rebel leader Foday Sankoh, whose only aim, it said, is to enrich himself while his followers engage in murder, rape, and torture.
While Ha'aretz of Israel claimed Thursday in an editorial that a framework agreement with the Palestinians is still within reach, although it will be delayed well beyond this Saturday's target date, Cairo's semi-official daily al-Ahram gave an extremely pessimistic assessment of Middle East peace prospects. The editor, Ibrahim Nafei, a confidant of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, wrote Thursday on al-Ahram's front page that "Israel is trying to avoid the consequences of a comprehensive peace." It said, "This is now certain. All available evidence proves beyond reasonable doubt that the Israeli government is not serious in the least about the peace negotiations it is engaged in with the Palestinians, with the Syrians through American mediation, and with the Lebanese via the United Nations. All the promises we heard before from Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Barak about his country's eagerness for peace, his readiness to make difficult decisions, and his willingness to shoulder the burden of peace have evaporated. How we hoped that Barak would honor the promises he made in the past with no outside pressure. That would have been the only way that a last precious chance for peace could have been grasped."
The Financial Times of London, perhaps because of intensified competition with the revamped Wall Street Journal Europe, has become rather skittish of late. In a front-page article Thursday, facetiously headlined "Procter & Gamble bottom line is challenged," it reported that the company has decided to halve the "temporary wet strength" of the British version of its Charmin toilet roll, launched only four months ago, because of claims that it could block sewage pipes by not disintegrating quickly enough. The wet strength of the British Charmin was made double that of the U.S. version after market research showed that Britons tend to fold their toilet paper, while Americans tend to scrunch it. "This leads to a different dynamic in the product," a P&G spokesman told the FT. "Folding the paper means you need strength." Harold Ross of The New Yorker would not have approved of the play the FT gave this story. In a letter to E.B. White in 1935, he wrote that "the word toilet paper in print inevitably presents a picture to me that is distasteful and, frequently, sickening. It would, for instance, ruin my meal if I read it while eating. It might easily cause vomiting."