After Göteborg and Genoa, summit’s got to change …

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Series Details Vol.7, No.30, 26.7.01, p6
Publication Date 26/07/2001
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Date: 26/07/01

NOW that we're nearly done with the latest round of navel-gazing that inevitably follows the made-for-TV glad-handing and head-bashing of world summitry, it's time to consider some real solutions.

Ever since last week's high-profile gatherings in Genoa and Bonn, officials and commentators have been searching for ways to avoid more violence but still allow leaders from the EU and beyond to meet to discuss pressing political issues.

Some have advocated cancelling summits altogether, seeing as most of the world's real diplomatic work is done by fonctionnaires and their stagiaires (or perhaps the other way around). But UK premier Tony Blair is right when he says this would only be caving in to the anarchists.

No, summits must continue. The only question is how. Many observers have suggested holding important meetings in places that are either so remote as to be nearly impossible to reach or are so boring that no-one would ever want to go there. These could include desert islands, luxury cruise ships or possibly Luxembourg.

But it's more complicated than that. As the riots in Göteborg and Genoa showed, anti-globalisation forces have become more sophisticated and have thrown their net wider - they no longer are attacking just McDonald's but also Burger Kings and KFCs. Something must be done, and here are just a few possible solutions.

Option 1: Survivor! Build on the desert-island idea by combining crucial summits with the high-drama survivalist TV shows which are so popular in Europe. Parachute world leaders onto an uncharted Pacific atoll, give them only water, rice, some matches and a camera crew (union, of course), and let them work out global problems as they struggle to stay alive. Sort of a House of Lords of the Flies.

This would not only boost the EU's entertainment value, it would also help address the democratic deficit. Viewers could vote every day on which head of state or government to eliminate - an instant reflection of public opinion on any given issue.

Results would be immediate. It's not likely Jacques Chirac will be so stubbornly opposed to postal liberalisation if he suddenly has to wear a loincloth and eat rat. And if it will help matters, taxpayers can pay to fly his wife and daughter along, too.

Option 2: Next Window, Please. Here's a devious and altogether Belgian idea: forget the water cannon and tear gas and bury the protesters in paperwork. The government simply announces that it will allow any and all anarchist groups to demonstrate at summits in Brussels provided they register with the local commune and comply with applicable ordinances. It will all be over before anyone even figures out which colour bags to use for recycling.

Option 3: The Transparency Trap, also known as the Bore War. Most of the protestors are peaceful folks who feel shut out of the political process and just want their voices heard. A few are violent and easily provoked. One way to take care of both groups is to open up every single minute of a summit to the public - every meeting, every meal, every bilateral discussion on the margins.

The first bunch would quickly realise that they aren't missing much and the rest would be bored into a stupor.

Option 4: Urban Renewal. Don't bother spending millions to spruce up cities before they host gatherings. Instead, hold the summits in the worst parts of town - Brussels' Gare du Nord area springs to mind - and leave them at their grimiest. Then let the rabble-rousers go mad. This will save millions in demolition costs and pave the way for much-needed infrastructure-improvement projects - which means good jobs at good wages.

Option 5: Expand the Brand. Here's one straight from DG Enterprise that takes into account the needs of demonstrators, helps raise money for EU projects (including, possibly, more development aid) and boosts awareness of the Union logo. Give out free official EU balaclavas, backpacks and Doc Martens.

Option 6: Après Moi, le Congé. This is another simple yet Belgian solution. The EU has already decided to host all of its summits in Brussels. It should take this a step further and hold them all in July or August, when absolutely no one is in town. Added bonus: shops are already boarded-up.

Option 7: Summit Cum Laude. A variation on the above which takes advantage of the fact that a large percentage of the protestors are students. Hold the most important meetings during final exams.

Ending summit violence while taking into account legitimate public concerns about globalisation is a vital issue that must be addressed immediately. And as this column has shown, it is no laughing matter. So let's all promise to hold world leaders and agitators alike accountable - just as soon as we all get back from vacation. By Craig Winneker

Feature suggesting alternative ways of avoiding violence at future world summits.

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