The recent G20 summit signifies Obama’s international debutante ball, but it also shows that Europe is still not ready for a Post-Bush Era of serious global problem solving.
In recent weeks, I have openly praised certain advantages to “European-style” government, in part to highlight the Republicans’ absurd contention that Obama was leading the U.S. into some Euro-socialist hellhole of no return. The fact of the matter is that, especially during an extreme financial crisis, the European model (I use model broadly because each EU member state is very different) offers greater benefits to its citizens. Nonetheless, it is pure demagoguery on the part of certain EU leaders to now pretend that these safeguards are enough and that because the crisis originated in the U.S., it is the U.S.’s sole responsibility to bear the burden of repair.
First of all, many of the European countries – especially in Spain where Zapatero continues to insist that the crisis was solely caused by Americans – Europeans engaged in many of the same unwise borrowing and investing practices. Because a smaller percentage of Europeans invest their savings in 401K-like pension and mutual funds, even though people have lost their jobs and are defaulting on their mortgages, they haven’t lost their retirement net eggs. But the problem is real. Everywhere I look in Madrid, for example, small and medium sized businesses are closing shop. Almost everyone I know is at risk losing their jobs.
Yet when it is time for Obama to meet with world leaders to discuss the global crisis, the Europeans say that the entire crisis is the Americans’ fault, and as such, the Europeans are not going to implement any fiscal stimulus programs. Rather, what is needed is a global regulatory framework. Bienvenu Mr. Obama to European Cynicism.
During the Bush years, European cynicism was simply masked behind a hatred of Bush’s unilateralism. It was easy to feign multilateralism when the world had a common sinister buffoon – yes, that is how the entire world saw Bush. But flash foreword to the new Obama era of change, and European leaders are not quite sure how to dissimulate their innate inability to take action. I mean, come on! Global regulation? Europe cannot regulate itself, how is it going to have global regulation?
Actually, there are two fundamental reasons why European nations are against a European stimulus package. The first is that it would be and has been impossible to garner European-wide support for it. Each member state has its own political agenda. End of story. By even attempting to put together such a package would only prove to the markets just how far away Europe is from real political cohesion (ie, very bad news for the Euro). The second reason is that a stimulus package would essentially nullify the “it’s all the Americans’ fault” argument. It may be hard to blame the still immensely popular Obama, so instead they rush to the photo op with the popular Obama while blaming American capitalism at the same time?
Even French president Sarkozy, who I at least admire for his atypical hyper-activism in a Europe characterized by indecisive inaction, has reduced himself to cheap American scapegoatism. He actually played one of Hillary’s old anti-Obama cards, claiming that Obama’s pretty speeches weren’t enough. Ironically, Obama was asking the Europeans to walk the walk by putting their money where their pretty multilateral mouths were, while Sarkozy was calling for more lip-service (aka global regulation).
So while I like to point out what works in Europe that the U.S. can replicate and improve on, I don’t think that Europe has the answers. Just like with every serious international conflict, military or otherwise, the Europeans consistently refuse to invest in or commit to real solutions, yet they reserve the right to demonize the U.S. when it steps in to take charge.
I am starting to get the feeling that the only thing the EU member states can do in unison is to complain about the U.S. It’s time for Europe to decide whether it really wants to solve problems or prefers the status quo of portraying the U.S. in Bush Era terms as an excuse for EU impotence. With Obama’s good will among European voters, we’ll soon learn where Europe’s politicians will feel pressured towards change Europeans can believe in.