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Bush faces a hostile Europe

Bush's foreign policy is anathema to many Swiss

(swissinfo.ch)

President George W Bush is facing a hostile reception in Europe as he kicks off a four-nation tour in Germany on Wednesday.

Behind the diplomats' smiles and red carpet treatment, Bush is likely to have a tough time persuading his European Union counterparts to support, or at least water down their opposition to, key aspects of United States' policy.

The visit has already drawn protests in Berlin, where some 20,000, mostly peaceful anti-war demonstrators took to the streets on Wednesday, although some American flags were burned.

European governments are likely to take a similar attitude towards Washington's new tariffs on steel and certain agricultural products, as well as what many in Europe see as Washington's heavy handed foreign policy in its "war on terrorism".

European uneasiness

Indeed, some analysts believe Bush's visit will deepen the transatlantic rift rather than help to heal it. European uneasiness towards the Bush administration is shared in Switzerland, says Julian Hottinger, a senior researcher at the Institute of Federalism at the University of Fribourg.

"We sometimes don't see the rationale in the way decisions are taken in America and to a certain extent we have the feeling that every four years policy changes drastically if the president changes," Hottinger told swissinfo.

That view finds an echo on Europe's streets. "I don't think the American administration is tolerant of others' opinions, and I feel their foreign policy is arrogant," one Swiss woman told swissinfo.

Another said the US should stop acting unilaterally. "They should work together with Europe and other countries, instead of saying: 'We know how things are and we know the right way to act... and this is the only way to do it'."

War on terror

One of Bush's aims during his trip is to persuade European leaders of the danger posed by Iraq's Saddam Hussein, who the US accuses of supporting terrorism.

The US president told German television that he had no plans to attack Iraq "but I'm looking at all options with our allies... Iraq ought to be on our minds in Germany and the US".

Such comments are anathema to most European leaders, who are adamantly opposed to any offensive against Iraq without conclusive proof that it has links to terrorist organisations.

Germany's ruling Social Democratic Party says Chancellor Gerhard Schröder will reiterate Berlin's objections to any attack on Iraq during Bush's visit.

The importance of the issue was reinforced over the weekend, when the American vice president, Dick Cheney, warned that another terrorist attack, like those that took place last September 11, was likely in the United States.

Protectionism

Bush is also likely to be taken to task over protective tariffs on steel. The issue has caused an outcry in European capitals and the EU is planning to retaliate with tariffs of its own targeted at US states which Bush is depending on in November's congressional elections.

But in Julian Hottinger's view, Bush's protectionist measures, which are straining trade ties, pose little threat to transatlantic relations.

"Bush's protectionist measures are really an answer to an internal demand more than anything else. And even though the Europeans are not happy about it, I don't think the decision came as a surprise to them," he said.

"Europe has its own problems and will watch America with one eye but I don't think that the situation will get worse unless, of course, we are confronted with more violence," he added.

US indifference

Bush's main aim, says swissinfo correspondent Reto Pieth, is to simply explain his policies rather than seek support. The US administration, he said, has shown some indifference towards Europe's viewpoints.

"Bush will certainly try to clarify US positions to the Europeans and enlist European support for his forthcoming moves against Iraq. However, there is a certain amount of indifference to European dissatisfaction in the Bush administration. I don't think the US will be making any concessions," he said.

Some Swiss interviewed by swissinfo said they were not surprised by the US's high and mighty attitude. "I think a lot of Europeans have problems with the [US's] cultural and economic domination," said one man in Bern.

After Germany, Bush is to visit France, Italy and Russia, where a nuclear arms agreement and discussions about the arms shipments to Iran are on the agenda, as well as continued improvement in the two countries' cooperation.

swissinfo

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