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The BBC's Richard Lister
"Europeans will want to know how he will replace the Kyoto agreement"
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Friday, 8 June, 2001, 11:36 GMT 12:36 UK
Bush's tricky European tour
US President George W Bush
Behind the warm words there may be some tough talking
By BBC Europe correspondent Justin Webb

Have you heard about the new found warmth of the relationship between the United States and Spain?

Nor had journalists covering European Union affairs who were surprised to hear that George Bush's first official visit to Europe would kick-off in Madrid.

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Europe is unhappy with Bush's stance on the environment
Not in London where there is a 'special relationship' to nurture. Not in Paris where there are strained relations to mend. Not in Berlin where there is a newly-restored capital to be admired.

The fact is that this American president does things differently and the Europeans are having to come to terms with a man who - to European eyes - puts his domestic concerns above pretty much all else.

Hence Spain: The president speaks Spanish and wants to look good abroad, and the Spanish Government is of a centre right persuasion, so should not embarrass the president with things done or said now or in the past.

Personal disagreements

With Spain out of the way though, things will get trickier.

It is not so much that Europe and the United States disagree - they do that frequently, indeed with the sheer volume of transatlantic trade and political business it would be odd if they didn't.

It is more that with this president the disagreements seem, well, personal.

With Spain out of the way, things will get trickier

So - to take the thorniest issue head-on - the Kyoto treaty on global warming is more than just a political issue to be refined by diplomacy. To many European Governments support for Kyoto is an absolute article of faith, a demonstration of political commitment to the future of the planet.

So when George W Bush decides - in an almost off-hand manner - to ditch US commitment to the treaty, the Europeans get angry and not just angry with the US administration but angry, personally, with the president himself.

Kyoto angst

To be sure there will be some warm words at this summit about ways of bringing the two sides together and working out a common position which might put Kyoto back on track.

US President George W Bush
Bush comes from a different political culture to the Europeans
But make no mistake, there are several European leaders around that table who regard Bush as a man guilty of playing fast and loose with the future of the planet.

Privately, they are likely to tell him that, and privately he is likely to respond in kind, telling the Europeans that he is not afraid to stand up to what he sees as international bullying.

The fact is that the new president is not of the same political culture as most of his European 'friends'. And I am not talking here about a simple difference between a largely social democrat Europe and a conservative United States.

The differences are wider and more unbridgeable. Europeans look at Bush as a proponent of the death penalty (which they regard as uncivilised) and an opponent of abortion (which the Swedish hosts of the summit regard as the right of any woman).

Bad patch

They, particularly the Scandinavians and the French, see in Bush the worst kind of America - insular, uncultured and ignorant of the world.

So can the two sides get anywhere in Gothenburg ? Perhaps. Maybe some plain speaking behind the scenes will clear the air and maybe some Texan charm will reduce the tension. Certainly in public all will be smiles.

But in private, this is a marriage that is going through a bad patch.

Both sides need reminding of the reasons they got together in the first place. Only then can friendlier relations resume.

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See also:

19 May 01 | Americas
Bush and Putin set for summit
04 Apr 01 | Americas
France turns heat on Bush
24 Mar 01 | Europe
EU presses Bush on global warming
02 Apr 01 | Americas
Bush urged to rethink Kyoto snub
30 Mar 01 | Americas
Kyoto: Why did the US pull out?
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