New Owners Buoy The European

THE European, the English-language weekly newspaper launched by the late Robert Maxwell, has been rescued from oblivion by millionaire twins who are planning to keep it going for at least three years.

They hope to expand the European's circulation beyond the current 200,000 to 220,000 copies. Long-term plans include a bid to penetrate the United States market and to further develop a pan-European editorial approach.

When Maxwell, a controversial British media baron, died off the Spanish coast in November, it was widely expected that the loss-making paper - launched in May 1990 with the aim of offering readers a Europe's-eye view of the world - would close.

For eight weeks, the paper was in the care of administrators and appeared in truncated shoestring editions produced by a largely unpaid staff. The full-color broadsheet paper was bought for an undisclosed sum on Jan. 6 by David and Frederick Barclay, who have worldwide hotel and shipping interests.

One of the twins' first decisions after the purchase was to appoint Charles Garside, deputy editor at the time of Maxwell's death, to the post of editor. The new proprietors commended Mr. Garside for staying with and nursing the European during the crisis weeks when most media experts were predicting its demise.

Garside said the Barclays had told him they did not intend to involve themselves in editorial decisions. That will make a change from the ownership of Maxwell, who was notorious for meddling in editorial decisions, including insisting on articles by and about himself.

Maxwell is believed to have spent British pounds50 million (US$90 million) on the European in 18 months. Sources in the City, London's financial district, say the Barclays bought it for less than British pounds5 million.

Before the rescue, the publicity-shy brothers were little known in Britain outside of financial circles. The twins own luxury hotels in London and Monte Carlo and have extensive property interests in the US. In 1983 they bought the then loss-making shipping group, Ellerman Lines, selling it in 1985 at a profit. Three years ago they purchased the Bermuda-based Gotaas-Larsen shipping line that they still own. Their net worth is put at around British pounds400 million.

Moving the European toward profitability will require skillful management and imaginative editing. The paper never made money in its first 18 months, due largely to heavy spending on salaries for a staff of 145. When Maxwell died losses were close to British pounds400,000 a week - roughly British pounds2 per copy sold.

Garside is expected to slash the staff to about 60 people, but he says he plans no major changes in the paper's general format, which consists of sections for general news, economics and business, and the arts.

Ian Watson, the paper's first editor, says its readers include businessmen, teachers, students, and politicians, mainly between 24 and 52 years old.

The European's editorial approach may have to change if it is to reach the 300,000 circulation that Maxwell set as his goal and the Barclays are said to consider the paper's break-even point.

One journalist who stayed on during the period of uncertainty says the paper's failing in the past has been that it looked at Europe and its affairs through mainly British eyes.

"To be credible, the European has to take a broader view of itself, and that means more non-British writers - a truly European perspective," the journalist says.

Sources close to the Barclay brothers say they want the pan- European aspect of the paper to be developed, possibly with an expanded office in Brussels.

Yet despite its British slant, the weekly European has found it almost as easy to sell in continental Europe as in Britain. In Europe it outsold dailies such as the Wall Street Journal and the International Herald Tribune. When its price was hoisted 50 percent in mid-1990, sales did not fall.

Barclay executive Alan Chamberlain says that with the establishment in 1992 of a single European market, it is a good time for a relaunch.

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