LONDON -- "Britain is now the leper of Europe." So said Hugh Byrne, Ireland's minister for marine and natural resources, last Tuesday.
It's been that kind of week. It began with the German newspaper, Suddeutsche Zeitung, editorializing: "England is an island of sick animals. The only thing missing is chicken full of salmonella and fish riddled with worms." It ended with Nick Brown, the minister of agriculture here, announcing the government's plan to contain foot-and-mouth disease: killing, burning and burying 1 million healthy cows, sheep, goats and pigs.
The plan is to kill every farm animal within three kilometers (1.8 miles) of farms with infected animals. It is a scheme developed during the Middle Ages. And the reaction on continental Europe has been medieval. A French farmer whose animals have been infected by the virus carried across the channel by British sheep was quoted in newspapers here as saying: "Go away. This evil has come to us from your whore of an England again."
In Paris, Le Monde said: "You never hear debates about ethics or morals in Great Britain, just about saving money. It's no wonder the place is falling apart." In Madrid, El Mundo said: "The shoddy state of agriculture and cattle-breeding in Great Britain looks set to carry on giving us cause for concern."
The anger of the "New Europe," supposed to be a bit more unified than it was during the dark ages, is caused by the fact that the British refuse to vaccinate farm animals, basically because it costs too much. Capitalism above all. It is cheaper to kill them, because if infected animals survive, which most all of them do, their production of milk (and meat) is reduced. So are profits.
There is also some suspicion that Prime Minister Tony Blair, leading his Conservative opposition by 26 points in the latest Gallup Poll, wants the farm epidemic issue out of the news before the elections he has called for May 3. The tabloid Daily Mail summed it up this way in an editorial last Wednesday:
"So it has come to this. Police in the countryside are taking shotguns away from their owners to prevent despairing owners from turning the weapons on themselves. ... The government seems intent on downplaying this crisis in order to press on with the May 3 election."
It has also come to this: The British are trying to divert a little bit of unwanted attention from their broken systems with some Yank-bashing. Or, perhaps, just Bush-bashing.
The British, in conversation, seem to have seen through President Bush sooner than his fellow citizens. He is discussed and presented here as just another American knee-jerk right-winger.
Part of the British gripe with Bush's America at the moment is the U.S. refusal, in former Yugoslavia, to commit our troops to any action in which a soldier might get hurt. Europeans have known for quite a while that the American plan to give weapons and support to the Kosovo Liberation Army -- as long as Slobodan Milosevic was in power in Belgrade -- would lead to those weapons eventually being pointed at the NATO army occupying Kosovo. Now that is happening, just as American arming of fundamentalist militias in Afghanistan led to the Taliban's rule of that sad country -- and to more sophisticated terrorism.
The British do not object to the policy; after all, they ruled half the world by arming locals to fight each other. What makes them mad is that when locals begin shooting at us, we run home. Or we bomb. Which leaves others to clean up the mess left by the superpower.
That said, the main complaint now is Bush's claim that our CO-2 doesn't stink. The British and other Europeans were flabbergasted when the president announced that he did not intend to keep his promises to reduce our monstrous carbon dioxide (actually odorless) into the warming and shredding atmosphere. In The Guardian last Friday, our president was described as "breathtakingly irresponsible ... spineless ... pathetic ... selfish ... arrogant ... ignorant ... not a man of his word ... an ass on gas."
The new president, the press here quickly concluded, may or may not be a nice guy, but he represents only his SUV superpower. Bush's Americans can do whatever they feel like doing whenever or wherever they feel like doing it. If you don't like that, move to a different planet!
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