2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
Speaking Truth to Power!

European elite infatuated with Obama


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Shada Islam
2/12/08 Bus. Times (Sing.)


EUROPEAN Union leaders, policymakers and ordinary citizens are transfixed by the fiercely fought Democratic presidential race that has pit Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton against each other in a neck and neck battle for cash and votes.

Europe's fascination for US politics is not difficult to understand. EU officials and diplomats recognise that while the 27-nation bloc has ambitions to become a global player, the US remains the world's only superpower. Cooperation with Washington therefore remains imperative. And after years of tense and acrimonious relations with the Bush Administration over issues such as Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East, EU policymakers are hoping to establish a more balanced and even amicable relationship with the next man or woman in the White House.

Second, having faced the wrath not only of President George W Bush but also of so-called hawks and 'neocons' in the Republican party, most EU officials make no secret of their hope that the next US president will be a Democrat.

But there is more to Europe's interest in events on the other side of the Atlantic than meets the eye. Interestingly, many Europeans - even women - appear to be rooting for a victory for Mr Obama, believing this will mean more change in American foreign policy than electoral success for Mrs Clinton. In fact, if newspaper headlines are any indication, across the continent, European elites are infatuated with Mr Obama, who is now a cult figure.

Europeans' focus on the US is a reflection of the current sorry state of EU politics and politicians. Drama and passion in the US contrast with the lacklustre leadership style of most EU heads of government, including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Spain's Premier Jose Luis Zapatero.

Given her increasing domestic troubles, German Chancellor Angela Merkel appears to be losing her earlier reputation as the EU's golden girl. French President Nicolas Sarkozy continues to be viewed as mercurial and unreliable while Italian politics remains a mess following the end of the government led by Romano Prodi.

In fact, after seeing American democracy in high gear, Europeans are fretting over the relative lack of democracy at home. Unlike America's presidential primary elections, the process of selecting a first-ever EU president will be carried out behind closed doors and the decision will depend on EU heads of state and government, not the public.

Small wonder then that Europeans, bored with their own leaders and domestic politics, view the ongoing American presidential campaign as more passionately riveting than the antics of their own politicians. In fact, Walter Veltroni, the man replacing Italy's Mr Prodi as leader of the centre-left coalition, is openly campaigning as Italy's answer to Mr Obama.

Ironically, while few Europeans believe a man or woman from their own racial/ethnic minorities could ever aspire to lead a European nation, most are enthusiastic about Mr Obama's chances of entering the White House and wish him success over Mrs Clinton. They may have once dismissed him as too lightweight, too young, too inexperienced and too black, but Mr Obama is now a hero in Europe.

In the Netherlands, a poll by the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper found that of the 150 members of the country's House of Representatives, 58 would vote for Mr Obama if they could and 40 for Mrs Clinton. Only 23 would vote for a Republican. And in France, an online poll at the website of the left-leaning news weekly Le Nouvel Observateur gave Mr Obama 61 per cent of support to Mrs Clinton's 30 per cent, with 3,300 votes cast.

An editorial in the Brussels-based De Standaard articulated a view shared by many Europeans: 'American presidential elections are not 'home affairs'. American decisions have repercussions all over the globe... Hence, the world should be given the right to vote.'

As regards policies, Europeans are hoping for a fresh start in transatlantic relations on issues such as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and US failure to commit boldly to measures to combat climate change. The main hope is that the new leader will re-orient US foreign policy in a more multilateral direction, with increased focus on cooperating with Europe on the political and military fronts but also as regards environmental policies.

But even if these wishes do not come true and Mr Obama fails to immediately focus on Europe, there are hopes that his victory come November may change the spirit and the tone of the currently strained transatlantic dialogue.


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