Why Brussels Hates the US President

Trying to get around Brussels during the visit of a U.S. president is a titanic job, despite the fact that every few weeks 27 European leaders meet in the city.

Brussels is the heart of the European Union, but it is also the capital of Belgium. It’s practically two different cities, with different vital rhythms, populations and interests. In most cases, European Brussels is not even similar to Belgian Brussels. Normally, they just ignore each other. But there is a moment of communion, in which the two souls of Brussels are united in hatred of a common enemy.

The city is used to the fact that every few weeks, 27 government leaders, with their respective delegations, land and meet for two days at the European Council building in the heart of the European Quarter. It is so common that it has become part of the city’s landscape and calendar. A few streets are cut off around the building, but in general, life continues as normal. Except when one particular leader arrives in the capital: the president of the United States. Then, everything is turned upside-down and anger unites the two sides.

That normalcy with which Brussels receives 27 heads of state every few weeks is also conveyed by the European leaders themselves. The meetings usually take place on Thursdays and Fridays; it is not surprising when, if the first day’s meeting ends early, the leaders head down to the city. The Spanish government leaders sometimes walk to their hotel located a few meters from where the meetings are held. Occasionally, the leaders of France, Luxembourg, Portugal and Germany have been seen having a beer on a terrace of the Grand Place. There’s a famous photo of former German Chancellor Angela Merkel buying French fries in Jourdan Place during the Greek crisis negotiations.

But when an American president arrives in the city, even the least informed citizens know who is on its streets; it’s difficult to escape the din of the huge convoy of cars and motorcycles that accompany the president. The Secret Service stands on every corner, armed to the teeth; many more streets are cut off than usual; people are prevented from leaving their offices for hours every time the president moves around the area. The city is practically paralyzed so that the president can make his visit to Brussels.

Any building on the route has to pass through the filter of his Secret Service. Of course, it’s best not to tempt your luck and open any windows. The noise of helicopters, which normally fly over the city during European summits, is multiplied and practically non-stop, even at night. Many people don’t even go to work to avoid traffic and shuttered metro stops and streets blocked with barbed wire.

And that is where the two cities come together. When Joe Biden lands in Brussels this week to attend a special NATO summit on Thursday and to participate in a European Council session, the residents of Brussels, native and adopted, will think more about the enormous disturbances that interrupt their routine that day than the importance of such a meeting and the benefits to the trans-Atlantic alliance.

One might inevitably conclude that the life of an American president is considered more valuable than that of any European leader, something that can be explained by the importance of their arrival. From there, it is also easy to see the bit of resentment that many Europeans, especially from the Brussels bubble, feel toward a United States whom they view as continuing to treat European partners with contempt, Requiring disproportionate control for meetings that occur regularly without any problems sends an implicit message of superiority.

And it is also impossible not to ask what it says about the United States and its way of understanding the world that 27 leaders of some of the richest countries on the planet can walk more or less calmly through a city that becomes a genuine fortress every time an American president arrives, whether his name is Biden, Donald Trump or Barack Obama.

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