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Culture

European Diplomacy as Reality TV

A controversial documentary about Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, airing on German television, shows the true, and sometimes ugly, side of European diplomacy.

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After the press conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Rasmussen (r.) that journalists are "bandits."

A no-holds barred documentary about Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen that is now coming to German television is causing an uproar in European capitals from Ankara to Berlin.

The candid documentary on Rasmussen -- "Fogh Behind the Facade" -- covers half of the six-month Danish presidency of the European Union, from June to December 2002. The film, made by Danish journalist Christoffer Guldbrandsen, portrays the hallowed halls of European diplomacy as a reality television producer might.

A hand-held camera and microphones that are sometimes hidden pick up the revealing banter among politicians that can sometimes lead to diplomatic disasters.

German foreign minister can't find a stance

Witness a conversation between Rasmussen and his foreign minister, Peter Stig Möller.

While waiting for a visit from Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, Möller takes a dig at German counterpart Joschka Fischer's stance on Turkey's hopes for membership in the European Union in front of Rasmussen: "Did I already tell you that Joschka Fischer had three different opinions in 12 hours on this topic?"

The statement, coming during the final phase of negotiations for 10 new EU members in December caused an uproar in the Turkish capital of Ankara. Fischer, who said privately he didn't think of the country as a serious EU candidate, had to appear on Turkish television to ensure that Germany was open to the very controversial topic of Turkey's possible EU membership.

"International politics must essentially be based on trust. You must be able to discuss things, without having it out in the public the day after. It is all about decency," EU Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen said at a journalists' convention on Tuesday.

The anger was just as widespread within the Danish government, which Rasmussen, a right-of-center Liberal, rules in a coalition with the country's Conservative Party. Politicians from the right to the left of the political spectrum complained about the too-candid portrait.

Premier looks great, foreign minister doesn't

Rasmussen, who gave permission to filmmaker Guldbrandsen to follow him around for three months, didn't seem to mind. He received a pre-screening copy of the documentary and didn't find any problems with it.

Guldbrandsen, 32, said that most likely had to do with the fact that Rasmussen came off looking very good in the film.

"The more successful the presidency appeared to be, the more open he was," Guldbrandsen told the German magazine Der Spiegel.

Foreign Minister Möller, on the other hand, plays the weak counterpart to Rasmussen's suave, strong-minded leader role. The choicest parts come in the frantic, final phase of negotiations to expand the European Union at the Copenhagen conference in December 2002.

Supporting roles for Putin, Schröder have roles in Fogh show

As German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder appears on television screens, playing up Germany's role in smoothing the tensions between EU candidate country Poland and Brussels, Rasmussen is perturbed.

Gerhard Schröder

Gerhard Schröder


"What's this talk about a German plan?" asks Rasmussen, the camera close by. Rasmussen later called up Schröder to apologize.

In another scene, French President Jacques Chirac bemoans the power of French farmers and admits to Rasmussen that he is scared of them. Russian President Vladimir Putin, following a press conference with Rasmussen, tells the Danish premier that journalists are "bandits."

Following the first airing of the documentary in April, government spokesmen in Paris and Berlin said they felt the film was inappropriate in some parts. Such access, they said, would never occur in France or Germany.

"I have had many positive reactions, but also some less positive from people, having difficulties in accepting such transparency," Rasmussen said at a journalists' conference held in Copenhagen earlier this month. Rasmussen, who said he pledged to make the government's work more public when he arrived, said the film brings "more candor to the backdrop of politics."