- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 22, 2005

BRUSSELS — Senior European Union officials, for all their disdain toward the United States in recent years, have been squabbling this week over who gets more “face time” with President Bush.

“One day you will read in my memoirs the difficulty to find the right way to have a press conference or to put a knife and fork together without having disrespect between institutions,” said Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who holds the rotating presidency of the EU and has been Mr. Bush’s official host in Brussels.

“If ridicule could kill, there’d be bodies piling up in the streets in Brussels.”

First, Mr. Juncker had to deal with feuding between the European Commission — the EU’s executive branch — and the Council of the European Union, made up of the EU’s 25 heads of state and government.

Draft plans originally called for Mr. Bush to meet the commission yesterday afternoon, then hold a summit and dinner with the heads of national governments. That was before Jose Manuel Barroso, the commission president, placed a call to Mr. Bush, urging him to dine with the commission instead.

Mr. Barroso — a former Portuguese prime minister who supported the U.S.-led Iraq invasion and therefore had a debt to call in with the White House — got his way, but lost out on his bid to have the final summit press conference held at Berlaymont, the commission’s vast complex.

The press conference was instead held at the council’s more modest office building 100 yards away, despite loud objections that the commission was the more important institution.

“I was told that grannies in Ohio and Texas would immediately turn their TVs off if they realized they were being shown the council rather than the commission,” Mr. Juncker complained.

Even within the council, Mr. Juncker ran into arguments. To avoid inflicting 25 speeches on Mr. Bush, a list of “lead speakers” was drawn up, each of whom was to speak for a few minutes on a set theme.

But the first list did not include Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, who barged his way on in a frenzy of elbow-jabbing, and was permitted to speak on the need for economic reform in the European Union.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair made the cut and spoke on the Middle East, alongside the leaders of France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Hungary, Sweden, Spain, Germany, Austria and Slovakia.

Though the British government played down the summit, murmuring that rapprochement was for other European nations, Mr. Blair still landed a working breakfast with Mr. Bush. And Peter Mandelson, a close Blair ally recently named as the EU trade commissioner, was one of three commissioners dining with Mr. Bush last night.

The third major institution, the European Parliament, invited Mr. Bush to visit but did not even receive a reply. Thus its members were plowing through a plenary session at their headquarters in Strasbourg, France, while Mr. Bush was in Brussels.

The European Parliament “is one of the most anti-American legislative bodies on the planet, and that includes the Arab world,” said Chris Heaton-Harris, an EP member representing Britain’s Conservative Party.


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