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Thursday, 19 July, 2001, 14:47 GMT 15:47 UK
Bush's agenda for Genoa
George W Bush
George Bush is set for a difficult time at the G8 summit
By the BBC's Tom Carver

Big ticket summits like G8 may seem little more than political talkfests.

But don't be fooled. The significance of these events lies not in the final communique, but in the changes they achieve over the long term.

It is the work that is done by the so-called "sherpas", the senior civil servants of the different countries who toil behind the scenes "carrying" a project from one summit to the next, that matters in the long run.

First indications suggest there's less of a shift from the Clinton era than one might imagine

Though it rarely makes the headlines, a large part of their job is to gather input from NGOs and activist groups working in a particular field.

Over a period of years, decisions by the G8 permeate the lives of both rich and poor. Like a tanker, the G8 takes a while to change course, but when it does the effect is profound.

New experience

Even the old hands among the Bush people do not have much experience at this kind of international summitry, and they are approaching G8 cautiously.

On a number of the issues, it is quite hard to read their intentions, probably because they have not made up their minds. But first indications suggest there is less of a shift from the Clinton era than one might imagine.

anti-globalisation protester
Thousands of protesters descended on Genoa
Bill Clinton pushed hard to turn last year's G8 in Okinawa into a summit about development issues. This theme has been carried on. The slogan of this year's summit is "Beyond Debt Relief".

And George Bush has been happy to go along and embrace, among other things, the idea of a Global Fund to combat Aids and other diseases in the third world.

On free trade, Bill Clinton may have paid more lip service to the idea of labour protection because he needed the trade union vote, but otherwise the position of the two presidents is pretty similar. Both are strong advocates of liberalisation.

Even on the thorny issue of climate change, Mr Bush and Mr Clinton are not that far apart. It is often forgotten that President Clinton also opposed many aspects of the Kyoto protocol.

Blunt approach

In fact, the main difference between them is that George Bush's rhetoric is blunter. In a key speech to the World Bank this week, he made no attempt to reach out to the protesters gathering in Genoa.

What some call globalisation is in fact the triumph of human liberty stretching across national borders

President Bush
"Make no mistake," he said, "those who protest free trade are no friends of the poor."

In a comment that will probably enrage the protesters, he added: "What some call globalisation is in fact the triumph of human liberty stretching across national borders".

George Bush says he has three main priorities when it comes to the G8:

  • To build a new strategic framework that moves beyond the Cold War (i.e. missile defence rather than nuclear arsenals).
  • To create a world trading system that is "dramatically more open and more free" (i.e. accelerating free trade).
  • Compassionate Conservatism "on an international level" (i.e. removing obstacles to development by funding education in the third world, increasing debt relief and supporting the Global Aids project).

This agenda mixes strong liberalisation tendencies with a desire to do something more pro-active to lift the third world out of poverty. In some ways, it reflects the two sides of George Bush's character.

Over the years, we will discover which will predominate.

George Bush will have used his first G8 summit to get to know the rest of the club.

In the past, some of his people have expressed scepticism about the value of these summits. When they realise what a powerful tool they are, they may change their minds.

The BBC's Brian Barron
"On the streets now there is more prosaic concerns"
See also:

19 Jul 01 | Europe
Protesters flood into Genoa
18 Jul 01 | Europe
Genoa set for summit onslaught
15 Jun 01 | Europe
Gothenburgers count the cost
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