2/21/2005

The European agenda for an incurious, attention-challenged, sheltered, autocratic head of state. Did I mention George Bush is on the road?

Great snarky article on Bush's tour of Europe from the Independent (UK):

One question each: Europe's leaders are awarded topics for their presidential chat
By Stephen Castle in Brussels
As the leader of the free world George Bush is known to be a busy man. There have also been question-marks in the past over his attention span and dislike of protracted debate, but, even by the standards of the Bush White House, the assembled heads of Europe will be given short shrift tomorrow when they gather to address the President of the United States.
President Bush arrived in Brussels last night for his week-long tour of Europe. When 25 elected heads of state assemble tomorrow in the Justus Lipsius building, which houses the Council of Ministers, eleven of them have been chosen to address the US President on an international matter of importance, they will be allocated a minimal amount of time ­ the betting is five minutes each.
Tony Blair will give a commentary on the future of the Middle East. The French President, Jacques Chirac, will attempt to sum up the intricacies of European integration. Bertie Ahern will speak for five minutes on the subject, bizarrely, of Russia. But the man who has been handed the short straw is the Slovakian Prime Minister, Mikulas Dzurinda, who will address a doubtless stony-faced President on the subject of Iraq. Mr Bush will speak for half an hour in the 90-minute meeting.
EU officials in Brussels explain that, given the number of leaders who wish to speak, the format makes sense. Silvio Berlusconi forced his way on to the list (economic reform) after being excluded, further squeezing his colleagues' minutes. But, as the President begins a tour designed to reconcile old Europe and the White House, it has become clear that Europe is prepared to bend over backwards to ensure the guest has a good time.
Over the next two days, European leaders will welcome the invader of Iraq, scourge of the Kyoto protocol and patron of Guantanamo Bay with the warmth normally reserved for an old flame. Officials have been warring for weeks over the order in which Europe's institutions will roll out the red carpet.
On the whim of a nervous US secret service, 2,000 Eurocrats will be sent home to keep the two EU buildings Mr Bush will visit as empty as possible.
With the most powerful man in the world in town, no fewer than 31 other heads of government are converging on Brussels. About 2,500 police have been drafted in for the three-night visit to the US president during which 88 groups are threatening protests. Even before he stepped off Airforce One at Brussels' Zaventem airport last night, the message of this trips had come over loud and clear. Belgium was one of the most vociferous opponents of the war in Iraq and, not so long ago, politicians here were talking about using a (now changed) war crimes law to arrest visiting US dignitaries. It is safe to assume that topic will not be raised when Mr Bush kicks off his visit with an audience with King Albert II this morning. After a meeting with the Belgian premier, Guy Verhofstadt (a critic of the Iraq war) Mr Bush will give a speech on "a new era of transatlantic unity" with a goal of spreading democracy across the Middle East.
Mr Bush will say that "America supports a strong Europe because we need a strong partner in the hard work of advancing freedom in the world", according to excerpts of the address released by the White House.
Then in the evening comes another symbolic act of reconciliation at the US embassy where Mr Bush will entertain M. Chirac.Yet it is over tomorrow's events that officials have been feuding for weeks. Jean-Claude Juncker, the prime minister of Luxembourg, gave a taste of the shenanigans last week when he said: "If ridicule could kill there would be bodies piling up in the streets of Brussels."
Mr Bush will breakfast with Mr Blair then make his way to the Justus Lipsius building for his briefings. The prime ministers will not need telling to make it snappy.

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