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Europe's Minorities Welcome Obama Election

The election of Barack Obama as America's first African American president is leading Europe's minorities to ask themselves: could it happen here? The expressions of hope in the ethnic communities of Britain and France also are tempered with a certain amount of skepticism, a - "maybe not just yet."

Most Europeans were enamored with Barack Obama from early on - the young, energetic, well-spoken man who promised change, new leadership and a new partnership.

And Europe's ethnic minorities, on the streets or in the corridors of power, began asking the question - could it happen here.

Baroness Patricia Scotland, Britain's attorney general, says the U.S. election was a great day for democracy and showed people of all ethnic backgrounds that even the highest aspirations are possible to achieve.

"He has demonstrated it is possible if you have got the talent, if you have got the energy, the courage, if you have got the determination, if you have the ability and the passion all things are possible and it does not really matter the color that you come in or the shape or the size or the religious or sexual orientation," she said. "That is really powerful."

Baroness Scotland is the first woman and the first black person to become Britain's top lawyer - she is the top legal advisor to the British government. She was born in Dominica in the Caribbean and came to Britain as a small child. Some say she is a prime example that minorities can advance to high jobs in government. So, will Britain one day have a black prime minister?

"Absolutely. I have to be very conscious that I am the first woman attorney general in 700 years," she said. "If you were to ask someone - is it likely that the United Kingdom would have a woman as attorney general after having waited 700 years you might think some people would say - not that likely. It is likely that the first woman to be made attorney general is likely to be a black woman - well, I think even less likely. So, I think change is possible - absolutely."

Britain has a rich mix of ethnic communities, often from former British colonies. They come from the Caribbean, Africa, South Asia and that mix is celebrated every year at London's Notting Hill Carnival with music, dance and ethnic food.

But, unlike in the United States, where most black Americans trace their roots back to the days of slavery, Europe's minorities came much later.

Their history may be different, but the process of fully integrating can remain a difficult one.

France has a large immigrant population - predominantly Arabs and Africans - estimated at between 10 to 15 percent of the overall population of more than 60 million. The Paris neighborhood of Barbes has a rich ethnic mix, and its people have mixed views about being able to replicate an Obama-style victory.

"I do not think we will have a black president elected here with all the racism in France; I do not think it could happen here," said one man.

"Given the conditions and the social situation here in France, I think that if it happened it would simply be a miracle," one woman said.

"You see the French have understood that why not? I am convinced that the French have understood that from now on they have to make room for black people," one man added.

France prides itself on its model of citizenship with an emphasis on being French without reference to race, religion or national origin.

But minorities often feel left out and complain about the lack of opportunities, says Louis-Georges Tin, spokesman for the Representative Council of Black Associations.

"France keeps on maintaining the philosophical principles of equality but, in practice, things are very different," he said. "We know, for example, that it is five times more difficult to have a job if you are black or of Arab origin."

Change has to go much further say minority rights activists. George Pau Langevin agrees. She is the only black member of mainland France in the National Assembly.

"For us in France, we have to face facts that we are behind because we really struggle to get people elected who are representative of French society," she said.

Back in London in the ethnically-mixed neighborhood of Brixton people also wonder if and when the kind of change that brought Barack Obama to power in America, might come here.

"Most definitely, most definitely," said one man. "If we have a black candidate that want to reach and can get there on merit, I support that, I endorse that."

"You will probably see after the whole Obama thing, you will see a few people get to higher positions who are of color, but whether it will be that high up? In this country, I think it would take another 15 years probably," a woman added.

"Yes, we can," chanted Barack Obama supporters in America - the question is - will Europe follow and when.