Barack Obama's first visit to Brussels to cost Belgium more than €10m
Obama will arrive with 900-strong entourage, including 45 vehicles and three planes, and attend EU and Nato summits
Leo Cendrowicz in Brussels
theguardian.com, Monday 24 March 2014 16.18 EDT
As Belgium's capital and host to the EU and Nato, Brussels is used to deploying heavy security when big names pop by. But US President Barack Obama's visit on Tuesday will strain the city like never before with €10m (£8.4m) of Belgian money being spent to cover his 24 hours in the country.
The president will arrive on Tuesday night with a 900-strong entourage, including 45 vehicles and three cargo planes. Advance security teams orchestrating every last detail have combed Brussels already, checking the sewers and the major hospitals, while American military helicopters were last week given the green light for overflights. The city hosts at least four EU summits a year, with each of these gatherings costing €500,000 in extra police, military and transport expenses. "But this time round, you can multiply that figure by 20," said Brussels mayor, Yvan Mayeur.
The city's four-stage security scale will be raised from two to three during the visit, Obama's first to the country. A tight cordon will surround The Hotel, the 27-storey former Hilton in the Toison d'Or shopping district where the president will spend the night.
Belgium itself is mobilising 350 police and military on motorbikes to secure the president's routes to EU and Nato summits on Wednesday, while a convoy of nine US helicopters will take Obama to an American first world war cemetery.
After landing at Wevelgem aerodrome, a phalanx of 30 armoured cars will take Obama to the cemetery where – accompanied by Belgium's King Philippe and Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo – he will tour the battlefield and lay a wreath.
Obama will return to Brussels for a lunchtime summit with the European Council president, Herman Van Rompuy, and the European Commission president, José Manuel Barroso. He will then go to Nato's headquaters for a meeting with its secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
Obama, who spent Monday in Amsterdam and The Hague, will depart Brussels on Wednesday evening for Rome, where he will meet Pope Francis. His sole planned speech during his three-nation, four-day European tour will be to a 2,000-strong audience at Brussels' Centre for Fine Arts (Bozar) on Wednesday afternoon.
Brussels already has a reputation as a gridlock capital, ahead of the likes of Los Angeles and London. But Brigitte Grouwels, who heads the city's transport policy, said the expected lockdown of key areas during Obama's visit should encourage locals to walk, cycle and take public transport. She said: "Obama's visit gives an excellent opportunity … to experience first hand a city unencumbered by cars."
Officials say Obama is unlikely to indulge in an impromptu city walkabout like George W Bush who, during a 2005 visit, dropped in on the distinguished chocolatier Mary to buy a box of pralines.