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Monday, 11 June, 2001, 11:43 GMT 12:43 UK
Analysis: Challenge of the cultural divide
President George W Bush
Europe is getting to known a different kind of US president
By Angus Roxburgh in Brussels

As President George W Bush makes his first official visit to Europe, he is stepping across an immense and perhaps growing cultural and political divide.

His predecessor, Bill Clinton, who had travelled widely in Europe and spent a year as a student at Oxford, would have known what to expect. Mr Bush may get a surprise.

Europeans disagree among themselves, and vigorously. One would have to be a whirling dervish to see eye to eye with all of Europe all the time

Madeleine Albright cautions the new president on relations with Europe
The man dubbed the "Toxic Texan", because of his support for oil companies and opposition to the Kyoto Protocol on combating global warming, will visit the eco-capital of Europe, Sweden.

The man who presided over dozens of executions as governor of Texas will visit a continent where abolition of the death penalty is a prerequisite for membership of the European Union.

Mr Bush, accustomed to a public that consumes genetically modified foods and hormone-treated beef with scarcely a second thought, will encounter hostility bordering on hysteria in Europe, on both counts.

His plans for a "son of star wars" anti-missile shield will be received coolly, both in official quarters and in the streets.


He will be met not just by European heads of state but, it is expected, by tens of thousands of protesters.

The authorities in Gothenburg, venue for his summit with the EU, plan to provide accommodation for them in the city's schools.

For the first time a US leader will meet European Union counterparts who regard themselves as his equals on the world stage

There will also be a massive security presence, as Gothenburg becomes the latest station of the cross for anti-globalisation demonstrators, after Seattle, Prague and London.

It is not just the European public's mood that the new American president may find alien.

For the first time a US leader will meet European Union counterparts who regard themselves as his equals on the world stage.

Moreover, most of them have considerably more experience in the diplomatic footlights than he does.

New EU role

For some time the EU has been gearing up to play a bigger world role, and the past months have seen major developments.

Most striking is the work now well under way to create a European rapid reaction force - a military capability 60,000 strong, which should be ready in a couple of years to undertake peacekeeping and other operations around the globe, without American involvement.

The notorious "banana war" has finally been resolved, but the Americans' insistence that Europe should import their hormone-treated beef, GM maize and noisy aircraft remain a cause of friction

Mr Bush has publicly declared his support for the European initiative, but remains wary, influenced by those such as his Under-Secretary of State, John Bolton, who says the force is a "dagger at Nato's heart", which will split the Atlantic alliance.

The president may be swayed by arguments that a stronger European defence commitment will actually strengthen the alliance rather than weaken it - but he will also argue strongly that Europe must back its grand ideas with hard cash.

EU defence spending per capita is little more than half that of the United States, and as recently as the Kosovo campaign Europe could not have acted without American intelligence and hi-tech weaponry.

Diplomatic moves

Diplomatically, the EU is straying more and more often into traditional American spheres of influence.

It is playing an increasing role in the Middle East, capitalising on its good relations with (and financial support for) the Palestinians.

Henry Kissinger said... tensions in the trans-Atlantic alliance were his "present greatest concern"

A top-level European delegation went to North Korea in May to fill the perceived vacuum caused by Washington's cold-shouldering of the communist regime.

The former US secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, said he was "astonished" by this EU sortie - and added that tensions in the trans-Atlantic alliance were his "present greatest concern".

Mr Bush may be assumed to share these concerns, though he will be too diplomatic to say so openly during his visit.

A senior US diplomat in Brussels brushed aside the problem: "You can't have the EU as a strong and effective partner," he told me, "and not expect it to do these things. The important thing is to make sure we understand each other."

Trade problems

There is a growing catalogue of trade disputes to deal with.

The notorious "banana war", which led to the US imposing sanctions against many EU products, has finally been resolved. But the Americans' insistence that Europe should import their hormone-treated beef, GM maize and noisy aircraft remain a cause of friction.

And just last week the European Commission gave a prickly reaction to impending US moves to protect its steel industry from European imports.

But above all, the environment will dominate Mr Bush's talks.

Kyoto alternative

His team has been working overtime to put together an alternative strategy to the Kyoto deal supported by the Europeans.

Diplomats stress that he is not saying "we'll do nothing".

A "very serious, high-level review" is under way which will result in a Bush plan to save the environment. One official said it was significant that the president's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, actually conceded last week that "global warming" is taking place.

But the Europeans, who are furious with the administration's decision to abandon Kyoto, will want more than that.

Leaks suggesting Mr Bush will propose voluntary targets and incentives for reducing greenhouses gases have already been met with derision.

For both sides, the Bush tour of Europe will be a learning experience.

EU leaders will assess the man they must deal with for the next four years. And Mr Bush was warned last week by Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of state, of the disagreements he can expect to find beneath the united EU facade.

"Europeans disagree among themselves, and vigorously," she wrote in the New York Times.

"One would have to be a whirling dervish to see eye to eye with all of Europe all the time."

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See also:

08 Jun 01 | Europe
Bush's tricky European tour
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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