Europe hails Obama’s election as new US president


European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and other EU leaders congratulated Senator Obama on his election, expressing hope that there would be “renewed commitment” from Europe and the United States to tackling the ongoing financial crisis and foreign policy issues.

“On behalf of the European Commission and on my own behalf, I would like to congratulate Senator Obama on becoming the 44th President of the United States of America,” Barroso said in a statement on 5 November.

The senator from Illinois won the race for the presidency with about 52% of the vote, according to estimates, while his Democratic Party also made big gains in the Senate and the House of Representatives, giving the new president a comfortable majority to pass reforms. 

Barack Obama is the first African-American to be elected to the White House. He will be sworn in on 20 January 2009.

“It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, at this defining moment, change has come to America,” the new president told a crowd of supporters in Chicago on election night.

“The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America: I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there,” he added.

Recent polls have shown Obama’s popularity levels surge well above that of Republican nominee John McCain, leading observers to speculate that the election would be a foregone conclusion.

In Europe, Obama’s rating reached unusual highs as he came to personify a change from the unpopular policies of President Bush. Recent polls showed as much as 69% viewed Obama favourably, with his most positive ratings found in France, the Netherlands (both 85%) and Germany (83%), where in July more than 200,000 people gathered in Berlin near the historic Brandenburg Gate to follow his public speech (EURACTIV 25/07/08). 

Disgruntled politicians in particular had condemned the policies of the Bush administration and its hallmarks, the war in Iraq and the “war on terror”. 

“President Bush squandered US potential to contribute to global progress by his divisive, unilateral approach to issues such as security,” said Martin Schulz, leader of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament.

“I hope that after the last eight years there is a new beginning in the transatlantic relationship,” said Elmar Brok, a centre-right MEP from Germany, in a recent interview with EURACTIV. 

Brok said he hoped that Europe and the new US president could “together give more credibility to the West,” which he said had “partly been destroyed in recent years” under the Bush administration.

"More than ever, Europe has followed avidly the US election campaign [...] above all because Europe needs an America fully engaged in dialogue and cooperation," said the French Presidency of the EU in a statement. "The European Union sees in this election the promise of a reinforced transatlantic partnership," it added.

José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, pledged his "personal support" for Obama in forging a "renewed commitment" to face challenges common to Europe and the United States. He referred in particular to the economic downturn caused by the financial crisis, which started with the collapse of the US housing market.

"We need to change the current crisis into a new opportunity," Barroso said. "We need a new deal for a new world. I sincerely hope that with the leadership of President Obama, the United States of America will join forces with Europe to drive this new deal."

In a letter to the new president, released to the public by the Elysée, French President Nicolas Sarkozy praised Obama's "exceptional" campaign and the "vitality of American democracy". "In choosing you," said Sarkozy, "the American people have chosen change, openness and optimism".

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown also hailed Obama's "inspirational campaign" and the "progressive values" that had energised American politics. "I know Barack Obama," said Brown, describing their many shared values, adding that "we both have determination to show that government can act to help people fairly through these difficult times facing the global economy".

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was convinded that the US and Europe "will jointly address new threats and risks in a close relationship built upon mutual trust". She added that her government "is constantly aware of the importance and values of the trans-Atlantic partnership for our common future."

British Conservative opposition leader David Cameron, tellingly, described Obama as the first in a "new generation" of world leaders, adding that "in these difficult times, people everywhere are crying out for change".

In the European Parliament, the centre-right EPP-ED group, the largest political group in the Assembly, said it hoped for "a renewal of EU-US partnership" when Obama takes over the Presidency in January next year. EPP-ED chairman Joseph Daul MEP hailed a campaign marked by "dignity" and "respect for others" and called on Europe "never to forget its debt" to the United States: "If we are able to live in freedom, if we have been able to ensure peace on our continent for 60 years, it is thanks to the sacrifices of many Americans," Daul said.

Hans-Gert PötteringPresident of the European Parliament said the US election had "proved once again the extraordinarily capacity for renewal which has so often been evident at difficult moments in American history". He said he looked forward to a "fresh start to EU-US relations, putting them on a stronger and more vibrant footing" and expected partners on both sides of the Atlantic to "work together" on global issues such as climate change.

Martin Schulzleader of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, appealed to the incoming US president to put in place a reform programme that would renew US relations with the EU. "The tension and division caused by the Bush regime's policy on such important global issues as international stability and climate change must be relegated to the past. I appeal to the new president to make sure that Europe is on the top of his in-tray. We must start working together from day one - and together we will find the solutions the world now urgently needs."

Graham Watsonleader of the liberal group in Parliament (ALDE) gave "three cheers" to Barack Obama for his "well-deserved victory". However, Watson also sounded a note of caution about possible over-expectations placed on Obama. "As a candidate, Barack Obama promised to heal the divisions within America and between America and others in the international community: as President his challenge is to make good on those fine words".

The Greens welcomed Obama’s election as bringing "a new dawn for America and the world" after "the era of American cowboys" represented by the Bush Administration. Monica Frassoni, co-president of the Greens said: "The world faces an uncertain economic and environmental future with problems that cannot be solved by one person alone. But we can at last hope that the fear and scaremongering is over and look forward to a new age of positive thinking on security and defence, on climate change and for social justice."

Henry Louis Gates Jr., a Harvard scholar of African-American history, said the election rivalled the day in 1862 when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and the day 101 years later when the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. "There's never been a moment like this in our lifetime, ever," Gates said.

US elections are closely watched in Europe, as the United States represents the EU's largest single trading partner and has been a natural ally for a long time.

But the relationship has come under increasing strain under eight years of the Bush administration, with issues such as the war in Iraq and the War on Terror dividing Europeans and Americans.

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