The European hope for an Obama second term is now flagging after Barack Obama’s disastrous debate performance Wednesday night against Mitt Romney.
As in the United States, Obama’s debate performance is being ruthlessly panned by European leaders, diplomats and media, many of whom were not only hopeful, but confident that Obama would easily win re-election.
Instead, that certainty has now been replaced by heightened angst, best expressed by the French paper, Le Monde, which wrote on its front page, “Where did the favorite go?: Obama fails his first televised debate against an incisive Romney.”
That Obama failure, according to European media accounts, is rooted in the President’s shocking lack of style, substance and commanding presence, a critique shared across both sides of the European media’s political spectrum.
In Britain, for example, the conservative Daily Telegraph wrote that Romney was “stunningly on top of his argument with a faultless command of detail and a confident fluency that made Barack Obama seem hesitant, defensive and occasionally evasive.”
For its part, the liberal Guardian said Romney came off as “energetic and self-assured,” in contrast to the “sullen, grumpy and disengaged” Obama.” Meanwhile the liberal German news magazine Der Speigel bemoaned the fact the “sullen and listless Obama” could not best the “smiling and energetic” Romney.
The net effect, according to Der Speigel, was to render Obama “something of a Dud President,” causing a “negative effect on his candidacy” and thus placing his re-election efforts on “shaky ground.”
That electoral prospect, however, has engendered deep alarm in many European Union countries, led by right and left-centered governments, eager to keep their relationship with the Obama administration intact as they work to prevent the EU from fiscally imploding.
As one European financial analyst said, “The Europeans have a general uneasiness about a Romney presidency. It’s not because they don’t like him, but…There’s a general tendency to stick to what you know and what you have been working with.”
Romney certainly didn’t endear himself to EU leaders, in particular the Spanish, when he singled Spain out in the presidential debate as the poster child for the euro-debt crisis, when he said, “Spain spends 42 percent of its total economy on government. We’re now spending 42 percent of our economy on government. I don’t want to go down the path to Spain.”
Not surprisingly, that pointed observation hurt Spanish sensibilities, leading the country’s main daily, El Pais, to write, “Spain has never been mentioned in a presidential debate as a symbol of failure. What happened last night makes history. And not in a good way.”
To be fair, it’s hard to paint Spain in a positive light when the country is faced with record unemployment at 25 percent and reportedly on the verge of needing a bailout from the EU.
Moreover, it’s understandable why Romney wouldn’t want the United States to go down the same path as the EU, drowning in a sea of debt by giving unsustainable bailouts to welfare-state nations, such as Spain and Greece, in order to prevent them from going bankrupt.
Moreover, those recipient countries of EU largesse have had to impose harsh new spending cuts, tax increases and economic reforms to meet EU deficit targets, efforts which have hit their citizens with wage cuts and fewer services, prompting waves of anti-austerity protests.
Not surprisingly, those protests have signaled a coming EU economic meltdown, one which the Obama administration has been working feverishly to prevent prior to the November election lest it affect the US economy and imperil Obama’s reelection chances.
Administration officials have pressured EU countries to support Obama’s policy initiatives, evidenced most openly at the G8 meeting in May in which one European leader said, “It was like all of the G8 apart from Russia and Japan were expected to be part of the Obama re-election campaign.”
One EU official was even more direct when he revealed, “The Obama administration doesn’t want anything on a macroeconomic scale that is going to rock the global economy before November 6.”
To that end, Greece, which has been dependent since 2010 on billions of euro rescue loan packages as well as largesse from and the International Monetary Fund, now has a reported debt of $25 billion, double what that nation had previously claimed.
The European Commission wants a final decision on the next Greek bailout to take place at the next EU summit in mid-October, while Germany insists that it can’t be done until sometime in November — after the US Presidential election.
Yet, regardless of who wins that election, it’s unlikely that the EU will hold any longstanding objection to a Romney presidency.
As one diplomat in Brussels said, “Even though we have a natural predilection for Democratic presidents, we’ll embrace the next US president whoever he is. We just have to deal with it.”
Europe is right to be considering the possible eventualities. At this point, the election is anyone’s game.
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