Summit participants are seated in the lap of luxury

July 06, 1992|By Ian Johnson | Ian Johnson,Contributing Writer

MUNICH, Germany -- Like a bloated expedition of hobby climbers to Mount Everest, today's economic summit is luxurious, expensive and includes a large retinue of Sherpa guides.

But unlike private hikes to rarefied peaks, the lavish three-day Group of Seven summit will be taxpayer-financed -- to the tune of about $40 million, or $550,000 an hour. Most of the money will go to house, feed and entertain the seven leaders' 2,000 advisers, nicknamed "Sherpas" after the intrepid mountain guides of Nepal.

Some of the items with more easily identifiable price tags include a $35,000 conference table for the meeting in the Bavarian royal palace and the laying of communication cables for $250,000.

U.S. security officials say it would be too risky for President Bush if they were just taped to the ground. The floors have been ripped up, the cables buried and the floors relaid. Thursday, when the meeting is over, this process will be reversed in most of the rooms, which usually house exhibitions, not conferences.

Other costs include overtime for 9,000 police officers, rerouted subway and bus lines, a special helicopter pad in the middle of Munich's English Gardens, a sightseeing program and a flood of giveaways and throwaway documents for the 6,000 journalists and the leaders' advisers, campaign managers and family members.

Government spokesmen bristle at the unseemly talk of a price tag.

"We can't allow our hospitality to be on the level of a developing nation in southern Africa," said Dieter Vogel, a German government spokesman

As conference hosts, Germany and the state of Bavaria have ignored the precarious state of the unification-strapped public purse and are officially budgeting $23 million for the event, 15 times as much as was spent for the 1985 summit, the last one to which Germany was host.

Additional expenses, such as overtime for the police, compensation for downtown Munich businesses closed for security and renovations to Munich landmarks, are expected to add $5 million to $10 million. The six visiting countries will spend at least $10 million to $15 million of their money on presenting the desired appearance.

Opposition parties in Germany say the estimates are too modest. They say the total cost to taxpayers in the seven countries is about $50 million, the same as the cost of last year's summit, which was held in London.

Besides host Germany, the biggest spender this year undoubtedly will be the United States, if for no other reason than the size of President Bush's delegation. He will have 700 Sherpas on call.

Countries no longer rent a few hotel suites or even a few floors. Now, entire hotels are rented. Chancellor Helmut Kohl, for example, has booked all 300 beds in the Four Seasons Hotel, and President Bush's group will rent 500 of the Munich Sheraton's 636 rooms.

The hotel alone will cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $350,000, excluding the first-class cuisine, wines and services.

Such self-importance finds its detractors. In Munich, they come in the form of "autonomes," left-wing militants clad in black leather. For months, Bavarian police and undercover agents have been infiltrating the meetings at which the autonomes' plan demonstrations and "anti-summits."

Amid the luxury and security, few have heard the German churches' call for future summits to be scaled down and the savings donated to what they call more useful projects, such as relieving the famine in Africa.

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