The Euro in Free Fall 

What the foreign papers are saying.
May 5 2000 3:00 AM

The Euro in Free Fall 

The fall of Europe's single currency, the euro, to less than 90 U.S. cents dominated much of the European press Thursday. It was the front-page lead story in the Wall Street Journal Europe, which called its decline a "seemingly endless descent." "The Euro seems unable to find a floor in an environment of growing disenchantment with the currency," a leading foreign exchange specialist told the paper. The conservative Daily Telegraph of London, which is against Britain joining the euro, said in an editorial that the euro's fall was proving a political embarrassment. It said, "The trouble is that no-one knows where power over it resides, or, indeed, if anyone does have any real control over it."

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The story played biggest in the European countries that have already adopted the ailing currency. Corriere della Sera of Milan, Italy's biggest newspaper, splashed the news that the euro's decline since January has cost every Italian family about $350. El País of Madrid said it had brought the value of the Spanish peseta against the dollar to its lowest level since 1985. La Repubblica of Rome, in a front-page editorial, feared that it was undermining European solidarity. It criticized an editorial Wednesday in Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that put part of the blame on Italy's political instability. "Italy's political crisis is only a few weeks old, whereas the weakness of the euro goes back for more than a year," it said. But FAZ didn't dream of attributing it to the corruption scandal in the German Christian Democrat Union, even though the decline had accelerated at that time.

Die Welt of Germany gave greater prominence Thursday to the agreed merger of the Frankfurt and London stock markets, calling it a "perfect fusion" and saying it would create a serious competitor to Wall Street. The merger was also welcomed in an editorial in the Financial Times of London, which predicted that the new International Exchanges (iX) would lead to a further consolidation of Europe's stock markets, too long delayed by "squabbles over technology and narrow national interests." It urged the shareholders in the London Stock Exchange to swallow their pride and accept the "upstart" Frankfurt Boerse on equal terms: "After the City's humiliating failures in the introduction of new technology in the last decade, this may seem a bitter pill. But it must be swallowed. Frankfurt's technical superiority enabled it to take the lead in the new technology market that will now complement London's role in blue chip trading." But the Times of London was more cautious. "The overwhelming question that should absorb Europeans in future is the transparency and efficiency of the equity markets," it said in an editorial. "Only then can this merger be counted a success."

The Times led its front page with the opening of the trial in the Netherlands of two Libyans accused of planting a bomb aboard Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988, killing 270 people. It carried an artist's impression of the two white-robed Libyans flanked by two uniformed Scottish police officers in the special court where they are being tried by Scottish judges under Scottish law. In their opening statements, the defense lawyers said they will seek to exonerate their clients by incriminating others. They specifically named two Palestinian terrorist organizations and 10 individuals, including two witnesses for the prosecution.

Another big story in Britain is the country's local elections and the first ever election of a mayor for London in which polling was taking place Thursday. The Times said this would be Prime Minister Tony Blair's "blackest day," his biggest electoral setback since he came to power in May 1997. (Renegade left-winger Ken Livingstone is widely expected to defeat the official Labor Party candidate in the London mayoral election.) The Times and its sister tabloid the Sun, both owned by Rupert Murdoch, uncharitably suggested that Blair had flown to Northern Ireland for a new round of peace talks mainly to be out of London when the results are declared. Other British newspapers fronted the news that Rupert Murdoch's daughter, Elisabeth, is leaving her job as managing director of his British television company BSkyB to start up her own TV and film business in Britain. There was press speculation that she is bitter that her father chose her brother Lachlan as his successor to run his world-wide media company, News Corp.

The Indian press was full of odd and nasty stories Thursday. The Times of India reported that the Indian Supreme Court has annulled death sentences on three child murderers because they had killed children to please the gods. The court reduced their sentences to life imprisonment on the grounds that they were "gullible to superstitious thinking" and suffering from "utter ignorance." In fact, their motives in murdering and mutilating three children in Maharashta were entirely pecuniary. They wanted the gods to help them recover some buried treasure and decided to propitiate them first with offerings of children's blood. The court agreed that the crimes were "horrendous" but said that "a factor which looms large in this case is that they genuinely believed that a hidden treasure trove could be winched to the surface by infant sacrifices ceremonially performed." The Asian Age fronted a story from Lucknow about the blind principal of the Government Blind School there being arrested for sodomizing about a dozen blind students, all in their teens. The Hindu reported that old men in their 80s had been lured by financial incentives promised by the district administration of Andhra Pradesh into having vasectomies even when their wives had already undergone tubectomy operations. The medical authorities were determined to meet their family planning targets.

Alexander Chancellor is a columnist for the Guardian.

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