Europe warned against ‘Obamania’

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Policymakers and analysts have begun to warn Europeans against over-expectation regarding Barack Obama’s ability to deliver on his stated agenda for change, at least in the short term.

“Obama may be the treated as the new Messiah,” but bold initiatives to address the financial crisis, support multilateralism and address climate change need to be backed from Europe “with material help, not just photo opportunities,” warned Mark Leonard, head of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). 

In a statement, the UK-based think tank called on European leaders to develop their own views about solving the financial crisis and dealing with foreign policy issues. 

The challenges are numerous and include rescuing NATO’s Afghan mission, dealing with instability in Pakistan, countering Russia’s belligerence and managing the emergence of China as well as dealing with international terrorism, the spread of weapons of mass destruction and unrest across the Middle East. 

Leonard said European leaders should spend the next two months developing a package of solutions on all of these issues so that they can approach President Obama with the outlines of a common plan of action, instead of a shopping list of demands. 

The ECFR’s Andrew Wilson added that agreeing a common position towards Russia may be one of the most difficult transatlantic issues that the new US President would have to deal with. 

“For Europe, the issue is slowly becoming priority number one, while the US will see this as only one of a number of strategic relationships. But instead of struggling over spheres of influence with Russia, the EU and the US should be working together to uphold Western values,” Wilson said. 

Climate change deal not granted 

Similary, American support for a significant global deal on climate is anything but certain, even with Obama as president, according to US analysts recently questioned by EURACTIV (EURACTIV 31/10/08). 

There is a need for “expectation management” in Europe with respect to the climate change agenda of the next US presidency and the chances of a global deal, said Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, senior director for policy programmes at the German Marshall Fund in Washington, DC. 

In terms of the details of US domestic action to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, it is unlikely that the US Congress and Senate will sign off on anything more ambitious than the 2007 bi-partisan American Climate Security Act, proposed by US Senators Joe Lieberman (Independent Democrat, Connecticut) and John Warner (Republican, Virginia), Kleine-Brockhoff told EURACTIV. 

Financial crisis troubleshooting 

And a transatlantic consensus on how to tackle the financial crisis may not be easy to reach either, according to policymakers in Brussels. 

Graham Watson, the leader of the liberal group in Parliament (ALDE), warned that “miracles” there “cannot be realistically expected over the short term”. Speaking to EURACTIV, Watson said the first steps would probably be modest and centre on developing a consensus over policies to reform the regulation of the financial services industry. “Currently, our approaches are very, very different,” Watson said. 

Francis Wurtz, leader of the Socialist Group in the European Parliament, said pressure from Wall Street to reassert US leadership of the financial world, which it lost to London after the Enron corporate scandal, was likely to be very high on the new president’s agenda after the financial crisis. 

Terrorism also high on the agenda 

German Liberal MEP Alexander Graf Lambsdorff also warned against “expecting too much” of President Obama. 

“President Obama is also likely to demand more from Europeans in the future, particularly in the fight against terror,” he said. 

In return, Europeans must call on the US to deliver progress on issues that are of key importance, such as a common solution to the financial crisis, climate change, non-proliferation and Afghanistan. Equally urgent are reform of the United Nations, new US policy towards the International Criminal Court of Justice and closing down Guantananmo in the near future, Lambsdorff said. 

Recently, EU counterterrorism chief Gilles de Kerchove disclosed that the EU was willing to help the US close the controversial US Guantanamo centre in Cuba (EURACTIV 30/09/08). 

Barack Obama was an early opponent of the Bush administration's foreign policies, calling for "phased redeployment" from Iraq and demanding the opening of diplomatic dialogue with Syria and Iran. 

If elected, the Illinois senator stated that he would cut defence budgets and stop investing in "unproven" missile defence systems. Obama also called for more decisive international action against genocide in Darfur. 

This international agenda, and the shift from a Republican to a Democrat administration from which neo-conservatives would be expelled, has inspired European politicians to speak of "a new beginning in transatlantic relations". But much over-expectation stands alongside more realistic hopes. 

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