Thoughts on Obama's European Trip

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From Melvin Rhodes, WNP Senior Writer

While the American media focused primarily on what Michelle Obama wore and the hug she gave the Queen, many around the world perceived a significant change in the relationship between the EU and the US.

On the surface, the new US president seemed a great success, with thousands of people out to greet him wherever he went. But appearances, as they say, can be deceiving.

For the following is true of the much heralded G20, EU and NATO summits – very little was achieved. And what was achieved was largely because the US backed down, giving the Europeans everything they wanted or refusing to bring up subjects that could cause further division.

Preparatory to the G20 summit in London, President Obama had been hoping to persuade European countries to follow his stimulus plan with big spending programs of their own. There was particular US concern about Germany, which is the world’s biggest exporting nation. With the US doing everything possible to encourage people to spend more, the fear was that Germany would take advantage and sell more to Americans, thereby denying American companies any benefit from the stimulus. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, was not about to budge an inch, or even a centimeter, sticking to Germany’s long held fear of inflation, a historical disaster that led to the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Adolf Hitler.

Agreement was reached on further help to poorer nations and increased funding for the IMF, monies which will mainly be used to bail out Eastern European countries, to the advantage of Germany.

Germany was the key player at all three gatherings, of the G20, the EU and NATO. The EU is Europe’s great success story, helping the continent avoid repeating many of the conflicts of the past. The EU is the world’s biggest single market and the world’s biggest trading system. Its currency (used by 16 of its 27 members) is used by more people than the US dollar. It increasingly rivals the dollar as the world’s preferred trading currency. Germany is at the very center of the EU, geographically, economically and increasingly politically. The Franco-German alliance was a common feature of all three gatherings, pitting the two European countries against the two Anglo-Saxon powers.

While the US president openly backed Turkey’s application to join the EU, Germany and France remain opposed. US news media failed to note the arrogance of America’s demand – how would Americans feel if Europe demanded that Mexico be admitted to the United States as the 51st state? Obama wasn’t the first president to endorse Turkey’s claim – former President Bush also did. The motive could be to encourage Turkey’s fledgling democratic system (all EU members must be democracies). It could also be to encourage moderate Islam. But a third motive is also possible – that it would reduce the power and influence of the EU and set back European unity.

At the NATO summit in Prague, it was decided to admit Croatia and Albania as members, but US support for Ukraine and Georgia came up against German opposition. The Germans took a very pragmatic approach – the alliance is not going to go to war against Russia over the two countries, so why let them in the alliance, a move that would only antagonize Russia, a powerful nation that is very close to Germany?

The US suffered another set-back at the NATO gathering when President Obama’s request for more troops for Afghanistan was largely unsuccessful. Agreement was reached on sending a further 5000 troops but only to cover the election in August. Germany remains committed to keeping its troops out of the major combat areas. The general European feeling is that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won, so why waste more lives?

Much was made of France’s return to NATO’s military command structure after an absence of more than forty years. Little attention was given to the fact that it really doesn’t matter any more as communism has now collapsed and Russia is not likely to invade western countries.

There is clearly a divergence of interests taking place between the US and most of its European allies, the British being a notable exception. At the same time, European countries are more likely to assert their own interests as fear of Russia has diminished and they no longer feel a need for American protection.

A few months ago, it was widely hoped that there would be a new relationship between Europe and the US with the new administration in Washington. Rather, what’s emerging is that national interests really are quite different. The US and the EU are likely to grow further apart in the years ahead.