News / Europe

Obama Meets with European Leaders on Debt Crisis

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) walks with French President Nicholas Sarkozy, after Obama's arrival at Espace Riviera for the G20 summit in Cannes, France, November 3, 2011.
U.S. President Barack Obama (L) walks with French President Nicholas Sarkozy, after Obama's arrival at Espace Riviera for the G20 summit in Cannes, France, November 3, 2011.

President Barack Obama has arrived in France for the G20 economic summit.  Europe's debt crisis is adding urgency to the gathering and to the president's Thursday meetings with European leaders.

President Obama arrived in Cannes with Europe's debt problems on his mind.

The crisis, which spread from Greece, is likely to dominate the two-day summit of big industrial countries.  The problem has slowed the world's economic growth.

European Union leaders agreed last week on a proposal to ease the debt crisis, which includes a fund from which indebted countries can borrow and more money from banks.

But Greece's government threw the agreement into question this week when it announced that it would have voters, many of whom oppose requisite austerity measures, decide whether to implement the plan.

After landing in France, President Obama was set to meet separately with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.  The leaders of Europe's two largest economies have been trying to talk Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou out of holding the referendum.

Greece is not a member of the G20, but Papandreou is in Cannes to explain his government's decision to the group's members.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday the events in Greece underscore the need for Europe to unite behind conclusive action to resolve the crisis.

“Our goal is for there to be a unanimity of purpose coming out of the G20, which is the pre-eminent forum, as this administration desired, the pre-eminent forum for these kinds of discussions about the global economy.  And, clearly, Europe is a high priority right now," he said.

Heather Conley, the director of European programs at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, says the Greek decision puts additional pressure on the G20 delegates to find solutions.

"The stakes could not be higher.  And, you are seeing where European leaders who just about killed themselves at the 14th summit in 21 months to get this finely crafted decision, may have just been unwound with this decision," she said.

President Obama and members of his administration have been meeting regularly with European officials, to look for solutions to the debt crisis.

Europe's problems are having a direct effect on the American economy.  The head of the U.S. central bank, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, told reporters Wednesday the European leaders sometimes accept Washington's advice and sometimes reject it.

“Well, it is a bit frustrating.  Obviously, the key decision makers in Europe are the European leaders and economic policy makers there, and ultimately, it is their responsibility to find solutions to this very difficult problem," he said.

In Cannes, Obama was expected to promote his $447 billion American Jobs Act, which is stalled in Congress.  Other G20 leaders, mainly in Europe, are skeptical about whether the president can overcome intense opposition from Republicans and his own approval ratings.

Obama was also scheduled to meet Thursday with labor leaders from major industrial countries, before taking part in several meetings with the other G20 representatives.

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