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Europe Welcomes Obama, But How Long Will the Honeymoon Last?


Europe has given a warm welcome to Barack Obama and most Europeans express a sense that this is an American president they can do business with and one who will also listen to their opinions and concerns. There are, however, major issues between the United States and Europe where the two sides are likely to agree, and, where there could be friction.

Even before he has taken office, the world is looking to Barack Obama to begin addressing problems and crises.

For Europeans - money, war, the environment are the three top issues for the incoming American president. How he deals with them when he takes office on January 20 will be closely watched.

Since economies around the globe slid into recession and toward potential meltdown in the past months, governments have struggled to find ways to stem the downturn - with massive bailout packages and proposals to stimulate economies and create jobs.

Political economist Waltraud Schelkle of the London School of Economics said turning the crisis around is too big a job for any one leader or one country. But, she said Europe still looks to America.

"Europe in general, and perhaps the Germans in particular, would hope that the U.S. goes on spending and being that big market for our goods, while at the same time complaining that Americans don't save enough," she said. "So, there is a contradictory position in a way. In a way yes, Europe hopes that there will be a coordinated effort to stimulate the world economy back into just normalization and not this freefall in which we are at the moment."

But, even European countries are at odds with one another over what to do.

While the economy remains uppermost on everyone's mind - security issues, terrorism and war also figure prominently in U.S.-European relations.

And, with both sides of the Atlantic involved in Afghanistan and Mr. Obama having made success there a top priority - Afghanistan is certain to be high on the list, said British defense analyst Francis Tusa.

"If President Obama isn't on the phone to [German] Chancellor Merkel and people like that on January 20, I suspect the phone's going to start ringing on the 21st and this is one of those ones - if they [the Europeans] feel they can do business with this new president," he said. "I suspect almost the first thing he will ask is for a lifting of restrictions on troops already deployed in Afghanistan and to those nations not deployed, he will be looking not just for one load of MP's [military police] or a small medical detachment - no, fighting troops."

But more troops are not the answer, said political historian Dan Plesch of London University's School of Oriental and African Studies. He said one of the main problems is what he called "coalition incompetence".

"Any rookie officer gets taught about unity of command in the most simple of military engagement and yet there is no unity of command of the coalition forces in Afghanistan, no unity of doctrine and it isn't just about blaming the Germany for not wanting to pull their jack boots on again and get keen about fighting. Blaming the Germans is the easy headline. The reality is that American and coalition forces have been grossly incompetent from beginning to end in this conflict," said Plesch.

Most analysts agree that a more robust troop presence must be coupled with negotiations for any sort of success in Afghanistan and most also agree that Afghanistan is a crucial test for the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO.

For the past eight years of the Bush administration, Europeans have criticized the United States for lack of leadership in combating global warming and protecting the environment. Now, they hope that will change.

Charlie Kronick, senior climate advisor with Greenpeace, said Mr. Obama can combine economic stimulus programs with protecting the environment.

"In spite of constraints put on him because of the economy, there are some real opportunities here," he said. "The first one is investment in energy efficiency and improving the energy performance of the U.S. It's a fantastic way to generate employment activity generally and it actually targets the most vulnerable members of society - in other words people who are going to suffer from what's called fuel poverty - who can't afford to heat their homes in the winter and cool them in summer. All good stuff, good for the environment, good for the economy."

It's a tall order - but whether on economic issues, security, war and peace or saving the environment - much of the world will look to the new American president to work with them and to lead the way.

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