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Europe still favours Obama over Romney

31 October 2012, 14:46

Brussels - US President Barack Obama no longer inspires the enthusiasm he once did but Europe still favours him, doubtful of Republican challenger Mitt Romney even if his election would spell no fundamental change in ties with Washington.

With the race for the White House neck-and-neck, polls in Europe give Obama a massive lead – 75% to just 8% for Romney according to the latest survey by the German Marshall Fund.

The president's personal approval rating in Europe stands at 71%, down 12 percentage points but still remarkable after four years marked by the worst economic downturn since the 'Great Depression' of the 1930s.

Barring a major international crisis, US elections turn on the economy.

But in Europe, Obama is credited with the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and the reform of healthcare, though the stalemate in the Israel-Palestine conflict and failure to close the Guantanamo detention centre are negatives.

Some other successes he can claim, such as the tracking down and killing of Osama bin Laden, also play better to US audiences than in Europe.

Safe hands

Failings aside, it remains a fact that Obama "is the closest thing [in the United States] to a Social-Democrat", as known in Europe, said Jan Techau, head of the Carnegie Europe think-tank.

In contrast, Romney is largely an unknown quantity and what Europeans saw of him during a tour in July failed to reassure that he would be a 'safe pair of hands'.

His background in business as a financial wheeler dealer and his espousal of ultra-liberal economic policies would make him an uneasy bedfellow for many Europeans who blame the bankers and financiers for the 2008-09 global crash.

Additionally, he shares too much common ground with the far-right conservatives of George W Bush's presidency, indelibly linked to the Iraq war and a blunt assertion of US power which rattled the allies.

Ironically, for all the discussion and attention paid to the US election in Europe, there seems much less interest the other way, with foreign policy a very secondary issue in the 6 November vote.

Europe, when taken up, is done so more to score political points - Romney dubbing Obama as the man to lead the United States down the same path as twice bailed-out Greece.

US turning its back on Europe

For some, this low profile is welcome, keeping Europe out of the firing line despite the problems caused by the sovereign debt crisis.

The downside is that Washington has made clear that in reordering its priorities to 'pivot' to the Asia-Pacific region, it "turns its back to Europe", said Steven Blockmans, of the Centre for European Policy Studies.

"The two sides of the Atlantic are losing strategic interest in each other and also increasingly the capacity to deal with each other, to care together for the same things," said Ulrike Guerot of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Other analysts suggested that the United States cannot simply disregard events in Europe, if only for economic reasons - the debt crisis has hit the US economy and fixing the problem has to be one of its major concerns.

"Regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, the eurozone crisis will be a source of major US concern," Clara Marina O'Donnell of the Centre for European Reform at the Brookings Institution said in a recent article.

Obama and his officials have identified the debt crisis as "their biggest frustration with Europe. For them, EU institutions have shown themselves incapable of addressing the crisis", O'Donnell wrote.

For the president, austerity policies are not enough and Europe has to find growth somewhere by helping struggling states. But Romney takes a harder line, arguing that governments should simply get out of the way.

On that basis, a Romney victory could indeed "lead to a shift in US foreign policy ... although America's views on the eurozone are not the principal driver of EU policy, such a shift could have an impact on internal EU negotiations", O' Donnell added.



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