The real facilitators of Europe’s crisis talks

December 9, 2011

“Sometimes it’s good to do these things in person,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said after meeting with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble to discuss what to do about Europe’s debt crisis.

But it’s not easy pulling off a 72-hour, five-city blitz of European officials to proffer advice and some discreet prodding. It involves crossing the Atlantic Ocean twice and darting between Frankfurt, Berlin, Paris, Marseille and Milan, holding eight face-to-face meetings and three media sessions, as well as speaking with heads of state, finance ministers and central bankers.

Of course you need your own plane. Not a problem for the U.S. Treasury chief, who regularly has a blue-and-white military 737 at his disposal.

But the narrow, traffic-choked streets of European capitals and business centers could easily throw the schedule off. Geithner has far less influence over European drivers than he does over finance ministers.

The solution? Two words: motorcycle cops.

Escorting Geithner’s motorcades from airports to city center finance ministries and presidential palaces in Germany and France – and back again sometimes in the space of two hours – these fearless ninja riders fanned out across expressway lanes to block cars to let the motorcade pass quickly . When it did, they would scream to the front of the vehicle train on their BMW bikes and do it all over again.

Official motorcades always have two goals – block traffic to let the VIPs pass quickly, and keep drivers from infiltrating the queue. In Washington, it’s mostly three-ton SUVs that tend to do the blocking for President Barack Obama, or streets are simply closed off altogether. But the French and German motorcycle police simply hurled  their machines – and flesh – straight in front of on-ramps filled with accelerating cars, not much more than a flashing blue light and a helmet to protect them.

The most impressive performance came during rush hour in Marseille on Wednesday night, where the riders deftly blocked cars on a precariously elevated four lane expressway with nearly no shoulder, allowing the motorcade to zig zag past halted traffic. And allowing Geithner to make his meeting with incoming Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy at a center-right leaders’ conference.

So if Geithner’s counsel has anything to do with European leaders reaching a debt crisis solution that calms markets, the motorcycle police can take at least part of the credit.


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