Even for Paris, a city that has seen its share of historic celebrations, this week’s plans to mark the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution promised to be spectacular. There were to be fireworks, tanks on parade and tourists licking giant tricolor lollipops. An army of 30,000 soldiers and police, including frogmen under bridges, sharpshooters on rooftops—even a command team hovering overhead in a dirigible airship—were to guard the leaders of 32 nations, guests of President François Mitterrand. And at the end of the week, six of those leaders, including Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, were to join Mitterrand at the Louvre for the crowning event of the celebration: the 15th annual economic summit of the world’s seven most powerful industrial nations.
Last week, officials in Paris and Ottawa were billing the summit as the first that will focus on environmental problems, especially the warming of the atmosphere (page 38). In fact, at a Washington news briefing on July 6, President George Bush declared,
“Let Paris be known as the summit that accepted the environmental challenge.” The reason that the environment may take centre stage is because there are fewer disputes than in recent years over trade and financial policy, the staple fare of past summits.
And, thanks largely to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s ongoing drive for arms reduction, relations between the Western powers and the Warsaw Pact nations are clearly improving. But in each of the seven member states—Canada, the United States, Japan, France, Britain, West Germany and Italy—politicians have noted rising public concern about the environment. “All the leaders have understood that they can’t escape it,” said Stephen Lewis, former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations. “Not one of them has yet demonstrated the policy changes that would give strength to the rhetoric. But it is a safe issue for everyone.”
Indeed, several of the world leaders have personal and political reasons to opt for a lowrisk summit. It will be the first summit for Bush, who took office last January. Italian Prime Minister Ciríaco De Mita—who is expected to attend despite the collapse last week of his attempt to form a new coalition government—is widely regarded as an interim leader without the authority to commit Italy to major
policy changes. And West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl is treading lightly after his party suffered setbacks in elections earlier this year. But the weakest leader by far is Japanese Prime Minister Sousuke Uno, whose government is reeling under a barrage of financial and sex scandals. The 66-year-old Uno was severely shaken by newspaper reports last month
that he had kept a 40-year-old geisha for five months and had an affair with a 16-year-old apprentice geisha.
Still, Uno likely will call for tighter regulation of currency exchange rates and register his concern about new U.S. legislation that cited Japan as an unfair trader. And officials in several summit capitals said that there could be discussion of how best to help crumbling East European economies, such as those of Poland and Hungary. But officials reported little friction in key areas.
At last year’s summit in Toronto, concerns over trade—especially agricultural subsidies —figured prominently. But the trade battleground has shifted to Geneva, where negotiators for 96 countries, members of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), are continuing discussions on a sweeping revision of international trading rules. As well, all seven summit countries are in broad support of tight money controls and high-interest-rate policies
to manage inflation. The summiteers were expected to reaffirm that position—as well as their support for the GATT negotiations—in Paris. Other subjects on the agenda include the ongoing problem of Third World debt and the crackdown on student dissidents in China.
As for the environment—the likely centrepiece of the summit—few officials expected radically new commitments to arise from the final communiqué. “The environmental rhetoric will sound good,” predicted Canada’s Lewis, “but God knows what it will mean.”
In the meantime, Paris was preparing for the siege. The three-day summit was to cap six days of anniversary hoopla that threatened to paralyse the city. Long corteges of limousines carrying world leaders from event to event were expected to snarl traffic for a week. One major scheduled event: the official opening of the new Bastille opera house, designed by
Canadian architect Carlos Ott. As a prelude to the summit, many Frenchmen expressed concerns with predictions of a 40-per-cent increase in tourism to the country this year—most of it in July—including 2.5 million Americans. Local residents also objected to army security plans to mount surface-to-air missiles on a Paris bridge. And they threatened a second revolution if officials did not drop plans to seal off the downtown core for a full week. Both plans were shelved.
But, as the world leaders prepared to march into Paris, accountant Pascale Colomb prepared to escape. “Stay in Paris around July 14? No, it is out of the question,” he said. “It is going to be sheer madness.” And making his own symbolic statement on environmental matters he added, “I am going to the countryside.”
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