November 19, 2008
So I thought it would be interesting, as the hysteria fades, to take a short, unrepresentative tour of how EU-oriented bloggers greeted Barak Obama’s victory.
This is by no means a scientific or exhaustive survey – just a few quotes and links – and it’s highly unrepresentative because, of the acres of blogprint dedicated to the man, I’ve only read the 60+ posts found via Blogactiv’s European Blogosphere Google search and a few more I stumbled upon. In the end I used Google Notebook to clip choice quotes from – and tag – around 30 posts, to make sorting through it easier.
Quite a few posts, unsurprisingly, are tagged ‘hope’. But for every Stanley, who elegantly linked Obama’s thinking to that of the EU’s Founding Fathers:
Barack Obama regards Rheinhold Niebuhr as an important influence on his social and political thinking. In his book, “The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness” the chapter on “The World Community” contained the exact same message as the one Jean Monnet wrote about the peace to be established.
… there is probably someone else, frequently writing anonymously and painting him a little differently:
Barack Hussein Obama represents the triumph of cultural Marxism; or perhaps we should simply say Marxism. (Fjordman, The Brussels Journal).
Hence the title of this post: Obama became a canvas upon which everyone projects their hopes and fears for the future.
In the EU blogosphere, however, most posts were tagged “hope”. While Margot Wallström waxed lyrical about Change, however, most tempered their optimism with the recognition that, after all, he’s President of the US, not the EU:
… though a little bit of excitement and hyperbole is more than permissible … us non-Americans – perhaps especially us Europeans – shouldn’t get too excited by President Obama. He’s got a massive challenge ahead of him … (Nosemonkey, trying not to get too excited)
… his first duty will be to serve the interests of those who elected him and not the political priorities of friends and neighbours, so we should not raise our hopes too high. (Michael Berendt, preparing for an Obama presidency)
We will know there has been a sea change in American attitudes when we see the first US defendant charged with torture or war crimes before the International Court of Justice. I will not be holding my breath (Frank Schnittger considering Obama as World Leader)
… “major changes” cannot be expected in US foreign policy, whoever the next occupant of the White House. However, the Obama approach to Europe will clearly be co-operational, rather than confrontational (Stanley, bidding Obama bon voyage after his world tour).
Vive la Difference?
A lot of the admiration and hope on display in Europe was also tempered by a typically Old World recognition that Europe just doesn’t seem able to create such a leader, as opined by the New York Times and picked up by the BBC’s Mark Mardell. The EU-US cultural difference which Obama’s election highlights was also front and centre on several sites Often Known as Eurosceptic:
In America, change can occur in 24 hours, at the stroke of 130 million pens. There are a lot of Americans, too, and each one has the power to change things, each one can rise to the highest office despite modest roots (someone anonymous on EURSOC)
Bush understood that Europeans were unable and unwilling to match their words with deeds. Faced early on in his presidency with the solemn responsibility to protect Americans from terrorism, Bush effectively told European leaders to “Put Up or Shut Up.” Most Europeans decided to take their ball and go home. (Soeren Kern on The Brussels Journal)
On the other hand, Americans apparently now hope that they will not have to pretend to be Canadians any more, as picked up by A Fistful of Euros. Possibly my favourite post of the lot, however, was published on the Guest Blog by Neil Dillon, who pointed out that:
[while] Obama’s campaign was markedly populist … it also extremely positive. The core message was inspirational rather than fearful … Obama has turned populism on its head and proven it can still succeed. This is a lesson that Europe would do well to learn right now. At the Union level, populism is treated as the arch enemy of progress … Perhaps it may prove harder to inspire “cynical Europeans” than “wide-eyed Americans” in this regard. But the alternative is in nobody’s interest.
It’s the Policies, Stupid
While most posts were hopeful, however, the meat was elsewhere, with bloggers earnestly looking at the policy implications, particularly the impact on EU and/or US foreign policy. From Stanley’s succinct list of foreign policy challenges and analysis of his security strategy to Tomas Valasek’s survey of common transatlantic challenges (CER), all seem convinced that the challenges he faces will stretch even this President … and all hope that he is up to it.
Looking at specific foreign policy issues, noone had any trouble finding Obama in their areas of interest, except for Jon Worth, who refreshingly declared himself incompetent to comment (is this a first in Blogging History? Someone buy him a drink!). For example:
China: Stanley (again, inevitably) first set out a selection of Obama’s views on the main issues affecting China before looking at how Obama’s economic policies will impact China:
Ye Tan [New Business daily] argues that policies that a “mercantilist” Obama is likely to pressure China to pursue are in fact in line with China’s own best interests … under the screen of carrying out of fair trade, [Obama] will bring in policies that in a sense are mercantilist … Obama has repeatedly recommended that China develop its domestic demand, and increase the proportion of GDP it accounts for, … to improve the unemployment situation of America’s working class.
All manner of European nationals commented on US policy towards their country or region. Ari Ruslan, in his Balkan Perspective, rather touchingly wrote Mr Obama a letter:
… please let me inform about one of many short-comings of still present administration – namely Kosovo … Isn’t it now finally time to confess the made mistakes and start new chapter through local stakeholders instead of quackery by outsiders.
Hungarian Antal Dániel, for his part, set out some Central European expectations from the new American president, pointing out that:
Central Europe is one of the small parts of the world where Barack Obama and John McCain enjoyed a same level of support by non-voting non-Americans … it looks that Central Europe feels safer with its distant American ally than with Europe … Western opinions like the one expressed on Stanley’s fine Blogactiv blog [calling for a review of the US’ anti-missile project] that are completely ignoring Central Europe’s defence priorities will further weaken the cohesion of the European Union.
While fellow Hungarian journalist Peter Kóczián doesn’t think Obama’s victory will inspire a common European foreign policy or much thinking about it, Dániel agrees “that this not the beginning of a new transatlantic relationship but return to normalcy, even if it will never be the same”:
Germans firmly share a belief in these values, and it is precisely because Obama … is able to restore some of the trust eroded during the last eight years, that he is able to generate so much enthusiasm. (Atlantic-Community.org, quoted by Antal Dániel on Obama’s Berlin Speech)
Moving away from general foreign policy, Willy de Backer of 3E Intelligence appears fretful. For one thing, the EU could lose its pre-eminence in the one area – climate change – where it enjoys world leadership:
one of the most interesting developments coming out of the Obama transition news in the US, is the likelihood of a new Energy Security Council or a Climate and Energy Council. … The EU post-2009 could do with an integration of the three portfolios of energy-environment-economy (the 3Es) (EU climate lead in peril)
Moreover, he reports that Obama might send the Terminator to get the job done. Which should make more interesting headlines at the next UN climate change summit.
Meanwhile, the i-blogger provides a brief overview of Obama’s innovation policy. All politicians, of course, have such policies – Obama’s “Closing the Innovation Gap” could have been lifted off an EU White Paper – but Claus provided a memorably quotable line:
the slogan “Drill, Baby, Drill” will be replaced by “Innovate, Baby, Innovate” and Joe the Plumber will have to enroll for a life-long learning programme (Claus Schultz: Innovate, baby, innovate!)
The Web and Politics
Quite a few posts picked up on the importance of the Internet for Campaign Obama, as if Howard Dean’s ground-breaking campaign had never existed. The same anonymous blogger on EURSOC pointed out (before veering off to rant against tax policy in Europe):
Obama presents himself as the connected President … His campaign website was an impressive thing, boasting video channels (Barack TV), blogs, music downloads … A “MyBarackObama” site allowed internet supporters to become online canvassers among their friends and family, while linking to the larger Obamaland community…
What Obama does today, expect European leaders to do over the next few years … (Barak and his Mac by “EURSOC Two”)
EURSOC may not thank me for pointing it out, but here they’re pretty much on the same page as Margot Wallström, the first EU Commissioner to start a blog:
It is fair to say that [the Internet] has transformed how candidates campaigning, raise funds and speak to voters. It has certainly ended the domination of traditional media. … the extensive use of political and satirical videos, the online advertising, the 24/7 news and analysis, all added up to massive coverage, but the most striking development was the emergence of web communities and the extent to which applications such as YouTube, Facebook and MySpace helped shape the election and perhaps ultimately the result.
The Internet has made the whole electoral process more of an open discussion thanks to the community mentality evident on the web and there will be lessons for us in Europe to learn (Margot Wallström on the US election)
Let’s hope some of us do. However, there are dangers in importing best practices in online communication directly to EU communications, as the EU context is quite unique. Few Americans doubt that they need a Federal Government and a President – it’s raison d’etre is not really questioned. In such a context, top-down communications and social networks which are “lead from the centre” can work.
The same cannot be said about how increasing numbers of Europeans see the EU, particularly a Constitution/Lisbon/Reform Treaty. In this “trust-less” context, it’s less sure that a top-down approach to social networking for EU communications will work.
Trust2.0, anyone?Mathew Lowry