Divided Diet forecloses on Fukuda’s May Europe trip

by Reiji Yoshida

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has canceled planned visits to France, Germany and France in early May due to the expected continuation of the political standoff in the divided Diet, government officials said Wednesday.

Fukuda, however, will visit Russia from April 25-27 as scheduled and meet the Russian leadership, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said at a news conference.

The Golden Week holiday season from late April to early May is usually an opportunity for the prime minister to visit other countries and cultivate relations with world leaders.

The scheduled trip to Europe was considered particularly important for Fukuda because Japan is hosting the Group of Eight summit in July and as chair he needs to negotiate with participating leaders about a difficult agenda featuring efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

“We have been considering a visit to countries other than Russia in early May . . . but we have decided to call it off,” Machimura said, citing expected political scheduling at the Diet as one of the reasons for the cancellation.

“I never think (the cancellation) will be good for the national interests of Japan,” Machimura said. “It’s regrettable.”

Fukuda’s government has been harried ever since its inauguration in September by the opposition-controlled Upper House, and his planned trip to Europe is the latest victim of the opposition’s newly found strength.

The political standoff is expected to resume in early May as the opposition camp is threatening to submit a censure motion against Fukuda in the Upper House if the ruling bloc proceeds with a second vote on government-sponsored budget-related bills, including one to extend special tax rates on gasoline, after April 29.

Article 59 of the Constitution stipulates a bill can be sent back to the Lower House 60 days after it has been handed over to the Upper House for deliberation because it will be considered a rejection by the upper chamber. A bill can then be approved with two-thirds of the votes in the Lower House.

The ruling bloc-controlled Lower House passed the budget-related bills on Feb. 29 for the first time, but the opposition-controlled Upper House has shelved the bills and no schedule has been set for a vote in the upper chamber.

A top Foreign Ministry official declined comment on the cancellation Wednesday morning, saying, “It is a political affair.”

But the official insisted Fukuda does not necessarily need to meet world leaders face to face before the G8 summit in July because he has already met with U.S. President George W. Bush, had phone conversations with other leaders and is set to meet Russia’s leaders soon.