Though national governments in Western Europe remain supporters of the World Trade Organization, the street protests against the WTO in Seattle have touched a chord with the public here.
Even at the governmental level, some European officials used the unrest to criticize the United States and to advance their own agendas, while leaving it to President Clinton to defend the world trading system.
"What's happening outside is having an effect on the negotiations," the European Union's chief trade negotiator, Pascal Lamy, said Wednesday in Seattle. American hopes of persuading Europeans to cut back on agricultural trade subsidies are now "even less possible," he said.
Officials and commentators in other countries across the globe viewed the turmoil at the talks through the prism of their particular cultures and trade goals.
While officially decrying the disruption, officials in Tokyo were not upset the agenda was delayed because of their own go-slow strategy toward giving up subsidies for Japan's farmers. But Japan did protest the security concerns that kept Foreign Minister Yohei Kono from delivering a speech Tuesday.
In Chile, which has been held up as a model of free trade in the developing world, the disturbances in Seattle made front-page headlines, and leaders seemed angered by the unexpected, hostile reception.
Foreign Minister Juan Gabriel Valdez told reporters, "We don't think it's reasonable that representatives of the government of Chile or any other country in Latin America must be submitted to a situation like this when we've come to discuss commerce, not politics, in the United States."
Long before this week's rendezvous on the Pacific Coast, many European consumers, unions, environmental groups and some political parties were skeptical about globalization. On the continent in particular, open trade is sometimes seen as synonymous with the United States, which in turn is synonymous with unfettered capitalism.
The fact that the United States is imposing punitive trade tariffs on Europe, sanctioned by WTO rules, over bananas and hormone-treated beef has helped many Europeans equate the WTO with the USA. So has the unsuccessful drive by American agribusiness interests to sell genetically modified food and crops to European countries.
"There's a lot of affinity here with some of the organizations that are insisting on some of these issues, if not with the protesters in the streets," said Paul Brenton, a senior research fellow with the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels.
Tuesday evening in London, a daylong peaceful anti-WTO protest turned violent when several hundred people battled British riot police, overturned an empty police van and tried to set fire to it. Last weekend in France, about 20,000 people demonstrated peacefully against what they called the "commercialization of the planet" in Paris and seven other cities.
Photos of helmeted Seattle riot police with tear gas swirling behind them have been on the front pages of many European newspapers. A headline in the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad referred to "hooligans," the Liberation newspaper in France headlined its story "The Great Siege of Seattle," and Britain's Guardian referred to the "Battle of the Seattle Streets." The headline in Germany's tabloid Bild, over a series of photos of police beating up protesters, was "Merciless in Seattle."
And the alternative daily Die Tageszeitung said: "The impressive protest not only in the U.S. but also in other countries will hopefully have an effect beyond the conference in Seattle. May critics have a long breath and many ideas."
American officials in Seattle could hardly have enjoyed the fact that European politicians there were, in effect, appropriating their issues. The United States has been the leader in calling for the WTO, which regulates world trade, to become more transparent and more responsive to public scrutiny. Yet it was French Finance Minister Christian Sautter who was saying earnestly on French television that "the fact that it's not ministers or specialists discussing in dark offices but that we are here working in full light, I think that's progress." German Economics Minister Werner Mueller also said on German radio that he agreed with some of the protesters' goals, though not their methods. "Is it transparent enough?" he asked of the WTO, and he urged that non-governmental organizations be granted more access to WTO proceedings.
Only in Britain were media commentators less sympathetic to the protesters and the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) they represent. An editorial in the Times of London noted: "The WTO, made up largely of directly elected governments, is rather more accountable to its constituents than most of the one-issue NGOs protesting against it. . . . There is little evidence that the protesters of Seattle are a rising tide of angry humanity dammed by a wall of unresponsive corporate concrete."
Washington Post foreign correspondents Anthony Faiola in Santiago and Doug Struck in Tokyo and special correspondents Timm Gossing in Berlin and Sarah Delaney in Rome contributed to this report.