Feature

Obama’s domination of Europe

It took “lifesaving interference" from Obama to force European leaders to quit bickering and agree on a bailout for the Euro.

Barack Obama has become “the de facto president of the European Union,” said Jean Quatremer in his blog in France’s Libération. As the Greek debt crisis threatened to spread in recent weeks, European leaders bickered over whether and how to fund a bigger bailout; the putative EU president, Herman Van Rompuy, simply watched them, wringing his hands. “Tired of seeing these damn kids unable to agree to save their common currency, and knowing the euro’s collapse might trigger a tsunami that could devastate the planet,” Obama took action. After repeatedly phoning German Chancellor Angela Merkel, he finally got her to sign on to the rescue, succeeding where the best efforts of European leaders had failed. Then he phoned Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero and practically ordered him to cut the Spanish deficit in half, so that Spain wouldn’t be the next domino to fall. It’s as if America’s president staged a coup—and a necessary one. Obama’s “lifesaving interference in European affairs shows how dysfunctional the Union is for lack of strong leaders.”

Will we Brits, at least, push back a little? asked Peter McKay in the U.K.’s Daily Mail.  Don’t count on it. Britons had hoped for more independence from the U.S. following the Conservative victory in the recent parliamentary elections. Indeed, the day after our new government was formed last week, the new foreign secretary, William Hague, insisted that under Prime Minister David Cameron, the Anglo-American relationship would be “solid, but not slavish.” But then Hague gushed to reporters about how great it was that Obama was the first foreign leader to congratulate Cameron, and he jumped on a plane to go meet with Hillary Clinton. “By running off to Washington before he’d got his feet under his desk, Hague unwittingly conveys another message, to us and the Americans—that he intends to be more, not less, slavish than his predecessor.”

And yet Obama isn’t even particularly interested in Europe, said José Ignacio Torreblanca in Spain’s El País. This week, there was supposed to be a summit in Madrid between the U.S. president and EU heads of state, an annual event held mainly for the sake of relationship building. Obama canceled it, saying he was too busy to attend a meeting that had no clear and pressing agenda. Many Europeans “interpreted the snub as a sign that this Afro-Hawaiian president felt no affinity” toward the Old Continent. Some of us, though, rejoiced that finally a world leader “dared to say what everyone thinks: that EU summits are extremely boring and usually pointless.”

In fact, Obama may have written off the European Union altogether, said Natalie Nougayrede in France’s Le Monde. Yes, he needs a few key European allies to help him with “the issues that really matter to him,” such as imposing sanctions on Iran to cripple its nuclear programs. But he’s “plainly concluded that only the big European states have the clout” to do anything. So he has begun dealing with a select clique comprising Britain, France, and Germany. Each month, Obama has a videoconference with the leaders of these three countries to discuss areas of joint concern, such as Afghanistan, the Middle East, or the financial crisis. It looks like face-to-face summits will be rare in the Obama era. So it’s up to European leaders to make sure that  “trans-Atlantic video-diplomacy” is an effective foreign policy tool, and not just a “consolation prize.”

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