Obama nomination raises hopes in Europe

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Senator Barack Obama’s victory in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination in the US gave many European politicians the opportunity to express their wishes for the post-Bush era, although the candidate’s views on trade policy appear to be of some concern to the Commission.

The European Parliament’s Party of European Socialists (PES) issued a press release on June 5, tellingly entitled “European Parliament looks forward to life after Bush”. 

PES Vice-President Jan Marinus Wiersma said after the vote that her party “is longing for renewal of EU-US relations”. “We believe that Barack Obama’s victory in the presidential elections is the best guarantee of success in that mission,” he added. 

Just days before George Bush’s last EU-US summit on 10 June in Brdo, Slovenia, the Parliament adopted a resolution on EU-US relations, making clear that the MEPs are looking forward to change in Washington. The text was adopted with 552 votes in favour to 68 against, with 23 abstentions. 

The wide-ranging resolution puts pressure on the incoming President to ratify the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty and expresses concern over US plans for an anti-missile system in Europe. The text also criticises the Guantanamo Bay detention centre and “arbitrary” US arrests of suspected terrorists while denouncing the Bush administration for cutting its contribution to the UN Population Fund. 

The resolution further calls on the US to lift its visa regime “immediately” and treat all EU citizens equally, and demands that the US government “wrap up work on its domestic climate legislation” in time for the UN conference in Copenhagen in December 2009.

Speaking in London after talks with UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Commission President José Manuel Barroso however expressed some concern as to Obama’s stance on free trade. “I am not so happy with some of the statements made so far by the Democratic candidates on trade,” he said. He urged the US to remain “in the front line for open economies in the world,” especially in the context of the WTO Doha Round of global negotiations on freeing up trade. 

In France, Segolene Royal, President Sarkozy’s rival in the presidential elections last year, stated that “Obama embodies the America of today and tomorrow”. As for Sarkozy’s camp, the head of his UMP party Patrick Devedjian called Obama’s candidacy “a very beautiful image of America”. 

But in general politicians from the European centre-right were careful not to neglect the chances of Republican candidate John Mc Cain. Asked about his expectations from the US elections, the head of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee Jacek Sariusz-Wolski (EPP-ED, PL) answered: “You are asking me about my expectations from John McCain?” 

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