Can Obama lead team US-EU to global victory?

7th November 2008, Comments 1 comment

Under outgoing US President George W. Bush, defeat in tackling some of the world's most pressing problems was often blamed on a lack of transatlantic team spirit.

Brussels -- If current US-European relations were a football (erm ... soccer) team, they would be languishing at the bottom of the league.

But with the election of Barack Obama, most in the European Union conclude, they can only go up.

Under outgoing US President George W Bush, defeat in tackling some of the world's most pressing problems was often blamed on a lack of transatlantic team spirit.

"We need a new deal for a new world," said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. "I sincerely hope that with the leadership of President Obama, the US will join forces with Europe to drive this new deal -- for the benefit of our societies (and) the world."

With a prolific new center-forward like Obama in its ranks, the reasoning in Brussels goes, team US-EU can go for goal once again.

But do the expectations stand up to scrutiny? And what does Obama's election means for the EU as a whole, and its members?

The most immediate crisis facing the world is the global credit crunch, which originated in the US, and which many Europeans blame squarely on excessive deregulation in the US markets.

As Joseph Daul, who chairs the conservative grouping in the European Parliament, says Europe must work with the US. "While the financial crisis and its economic fallouts come primarily from the absence or lack of regulation of US markets, our duty is to work hand-in-hand with the United States," he said.

The leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Italy will travel to Washington on Nov. 15 for the first in a series of international summits aimed at reforming the way global finance is run.

And while Obama will not be in charge until January, those Europeans like French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who believe capitalism should be constrained and corporate salaries curbed, might find a sympathetic ear in the future Democratic leadership.

But when it comes to finding remedies to the global economic slowdown, transatlantic teamwork could well break down.

The EU's executive arm, the European Commission, believes that free trade is the best way to promote global prosperity.

But judging from some of the comments he made on the campaign trail, there is a concrete risk that Obama's protectionist instincts may stand in the way of a deal.

"Look, people don't want a cheaper T-shirt if they're losing a job in the process -- they would rather have the job and pay a little bit more for a T-shirt," Obama said on Aug. 8.

Another major issue on the global agenda is the fight against climate change. Bush's opposition to committing his country to clear targets on cutting greenhouse gas emissions unless other major polluters such as China and India do the same is seen by many Europeans as one of the main obstacles to saving the planet.

And Obama's frequent remarks that protecting the environment should be seen as an opportunity, rather than a challenge, have sounded like sweet music in many European ears.

"He will influence how China and developing countries reason about climate issues," Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said.

For many Europeans, the main challenge of the new US-EU team will be its handling of an increasingly belligerent Russia.

While people like Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus hope that Obama's strong stand in the face of Russia's aggression against Georgia will help countries like his feel better protected, diplomatic doves like Germany hope the democrat's multilateralism will help restore relations with the EU's most powerful neighbor.

And though his willingness to engage in diplomatic dialogue with rogue states like Iran is likely to resonate positively in Berlin, Obama's call for a stronger European role in NATO's fight against Afghanistan's Taliban will cause unease in many European capitals.

Obama's election is unequivocal good news for those EU countries that make the defense of human rights represents a top priority.

Commenting on the victory, Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said Obama's election should increase the chances that the US join the International Criminal Court in The Hague and close down the internationally controversial US prison on Guantanamo Bay on Cuba.

As Javier Solana, the EU's top diplomat, put it, Obama achieved a "fantastic victory" based on the promise of change.

Nicholas Rigillo/DPA/Expatica

1 Comment To This Article

  • Michael Kadin posted:

    on 7th November 2008, 15:26:33 - Reply

    This article had some good content in a general way. Could use more content with more depth. I came away in reading wanting more information.