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Corriere della Sera, Italy

'Lost Smiles' as Obama Prepares for Europe


"Celebrated with enthusiasm on both sides of the Atlantic, Barack Obama's honeymoon with his European allies is at risk of becoming as short as it is passionate. behind the facade of perfunctory smiles there lurks a deep and acrimonious dissent that no one could have predicted."


By Franco Venturini


Translated By Enrico Del Sero


March 21, 2009


Italy - Corriere della Sera - Original Article (Italian)

Czech Prime Minister and E.U. President Mirek Topolanek has created chaos by charging that President Obama's rescue plans are 'the road to hell,' and says the U.S. Administration's stimulus package and financial bailout 'will undermine the stability of the global financial markets.' This paves the way for a stormy summit next week between leaders of the Group of 20, March 25.


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Celebrated with enthusiasm on both sides of the Atlantic, Barack Obama's honeymoon with his European allies is at risk of becoming as short as it is passionate. In just a few days, America's new president comes to Europe for the first time to participate in a series of summits, from the G-20 in London to the NATO Council in Strasbourg to a formal meeting of the E.U. in Prague. Let us expect, and we're certainly not going to complain about it, solemn reaffirmations of ancient bonds, great displays of friendship and warm promises of cooperation.


After the support that almost all Europeans have shown Obama, it couldn't possibly be otherwise. But behind the facade of perfunctory smiles there lurks a deep and acrimonious dissent that no one could have predicted in sunnier days.


It all begins with the G-20 and its (shared) goal of combating the global recession. Obama is carrying a clear message: to avert disaster, we need massive new fiscal stimulus plans and governments must loosen their purse strings and foster economic growth through increased consumption. That's what the United States is doing, along with China and Japan, while Europe - American leaders accuse - is stingy and stubborn. Continental Europeans (but not Britain, since, as is often the case, it is quite close to the U.S.) consider it unreasonable to finance new stimulus packages before knowing for sure that those already adopted are working. Led by France and Germany, they tend to emphasize the need to regulate the financial system and define the activities of banks - in other words, prevent what happened on Wall Street and elsewhere from ever happening again, anywhere in the world.


The dispute would be merely doctrinal (and it would likely be discovered that everyone was right) if drops of poison weren't being added here and there. Paris and Berlin stress the responsibilities of "Anglo-Saxon capitalism," and find it odd that the singular lesson should come from the country that was more in error than any other (even if Obama has nothing to do with this). Europeans also deny that their stimulus plans are globally inadequate, say they want to defend the solidity of the euro - and cleverly say "they understand" why a system of rules and monitoring could prove irritating to Wall Street or the City of London.



Americans respond by disputing European estimates about the scale of their stimulus packages, tacitly confirming that it's difficult to deal with a Europe that lacks unified control over the economy. Behind the facade of consensus, this is enough to put the outcome of the G-20 at risk. Euro-American diplomacy, one might point out, has overcome greater obstacles. That's true, but this time the game is being played in front of unforgiving umpires: the economic crisis, unemployment, stock markets, and a lack of confidence needed to revive consumption.




Agreements like those reached in regard to the IMF won't be enough. Nor will low-profile compromises. And if no effective meeting of the minds is found between the strategies being pursued by the U.S. and Europe - and this is now being reaffirmed in Brussels - there are great risks that in the short-term, recriminations that we thought were overcome, such as "Europeans don't do their share" and "those arrogant Americans," will resurface.


Let's be clear: Barack Obama remains a symbol of hope in the eyes of Europeans, and no one expresses regret at the absence of his predecessor. What's new is that we're shifting from preliminary enthusiasm to the verification of positions - and no matter how one paints it, a failure at the G-20 could fuel other transatlantic disagreements. Might Obama reopen a dialogue with Russia, revisit the anti-missile shield and de facto postpone enlarging NATO to include Georgia and Ukraine? The "Old Europe" to which Italy belongs would applaud with conviction, but the "New Europe" in the east would seize the occasion to urge the head of the White House to be more cautious. And now he wants to reach out to Iran?


That's all well and good, but Europeans (first of all Italians, since they took the initiative) are concerned that Washington wants to do everything [negotiating with Iran] on its own while simultaneously urging harsher sanctions against Tehran by E.U. members. And a new strategy in Afghanistan? Excellent. It was high time. But as far as deploying additional forces far beyond the [Afghan] elections, how they are used and even in regard to financial and civil engagement, the European response falls far short of U.S. wishes.



And yet, Europe fears the G-2 - that special relationship between America and China that now seems inevitable. Not everyone agrees on the profile that the U.S. should adopt in regard to NATO, and America - this time in agreement with several European states - is unlikely to appreciate the withdrawal of the Spanish contingent from Kosovo. The United States would like to see a substantial diversification of Europe's energy supply, which remains dependent on Moscow and will remain so- regardless of the Nabucco pipeline [which skirts Russian territory]. And many Europeans, beginning with Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, have no intention of opening the E.U.'s doors to Turkey, where Obama will make his last stop and final promises on April 6. These are minor issues when compared to the depth of converging interests that still exist between Europeans and Americans. But if the G-20 fails to reconcile the issues of economic stimulus and global regulation - and if Obama, with his back against the wall over AIG-Bonus Gate - cannot arrive at an agreement with Europeans who are well-aware of the fragility of their own decision-making processes, then a dynamic fuelled by recession will turn every disagreement into controversy. And on this side of the Atlantic, a period of lost illusions will begin.
















































[Posted by WORLDMEETS.US March 27, 12:38am]