Signore Prodi is no match for straight-shootin’ Dubya

Author (Person)
Series Title
Series Details Vol.7, No.25, 21.6.01, p6
Publication Date 21/06/2001
Content Type

Date: 21/06/01

By Gareth Harding

MORE than 30 world leaders gathered in Göteborg for last week's EU summit, but there was only one that counted for the thousands of journalists and demonstrators who converged on Sweden 's second city.

Could it have been Tony Blair after his landslide victory in the UK elections? Silvio Berlusconi after forming a government with his neo-fascist allies? Or Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern after his country's shameful rejection of the Nice Treaty?

Not on your life. The hottest ticket in town was for a press conference given by a gas-guzzling, god-fearing Texan whose rise to power bears a striking resemblance to fictional film hero Forrest Gump. Step forward US President George 'Dubya' Bush.

There were 800 places available for the media and like a U2 concert they were sold out eons in advance. To avoid a last-minute stampede, journalists were advised to take their seats one hour before, which left plenty of time to eyeball the square-jawed security guards and gawp at the White House press corps with their bloated stomachs and egos.

After passing through a second security check, hacks were handed a do-it-yourself interpreting kit that offered three choices - English, French or Swedish. So garbled is the President's Texan twang that I settled for Swedish. It made much more sense that way. By the time Bush, Swedish Premier Göran Persson and

Commission President Romano Prodi arrived on stage, the audience had been worked up into such a feverish frenzy that even granite-faced Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy looked excited.

Turning to the two leaders either side of him, Persson said: "Mr President, Mr President, welcome to the press conference", but it was clear which one was the headline act and which was the support. In fact, after several rounds of questions, Bush was forced to quip: "There are other people up here, you know".

It is easy to lampoon the world's most powerful baseball fan. He refers to Africa as a 'nation,' has a Dan Dare vision of the world divided into friends and enemies, and a spooky way of staring at people which suggests that he skipped the last class in protocol school.

But one thing he does not lack is leadership quality. He is confident enough to explain his dodgy views on missile defence and climate change to a highly sceptical audience. He is decisive - after six questions it was he who drew the press conference to an end - and even if you disagree with what he is saying, at least you know what he is talking about.

If only the same could be said of Prodi. At best, the Commission chief sounds like the economics professor he once was. At worst, he sounds like Italian comic actor Roberto Benigni. At a recent press conference to explain why the Irish voted 'no' to Nice, the former prime minister went through a whole series of facial and vocal expressions which brought howls of laughter from the journalists watching on closed-circuit television, but must have added years to his PR people.

Every time Prodi replied to a question he apologised for forgetting to turn on the microphone, repeatedly switched his glasses as if impersonating Groucho Marx and shrugged his shoulders and waved his hands as though auditioning for a bit-part in a mafia film.

No one expects the Commission president to look as slick as Silvio Berlusconi or sound as polished as Tony Blair. But you do expect him to talk sense.

Unfortunately, Prodi is given to long, rambling answers which tend to start promisingly but trail off into a series of baffling metaphors and non-sequiturs.

At one point during Bush's press conference, a journalist asked if the President saw the EU as a threat to the US economy. Bush laughed before replying: "I appreciate good competition. It brings out the best in peoples and nations".

If the Union is serious about competing with America on the world stage, it needs more than whopping aid budgets, rapid reaction forces and special envoys jetting around the world.

It needs dynamic leaders who not only have a vision, but can make that vision come alive to ordinary people. The problem with Prodi is not that he lacks ideas, but that he is incapable of communicating them.

Feature on President George W. Bush's visit to Gothenburg, June 2001, to meet EU leaders. Writer compares President Bush and European Commission President Romano Prodi.

Subject Categories
Countries / Regions