Europe faces "disappointment" over Obama


Europe's euphoria at the election of Barack Obama as the next president of the United States may be dampened when he assumes power, a political expert warns.

This content was published on November 20, 2008

Obama attracted 200,000 people to a speech in Berlin and his victory sparked the unusual spectacle of Parisians dancing in the streets. "The whole world is counting on Obama," said Swiss newspaper Blick.

Many Europeans view Obama as the antithesis of George W. Bush: liberal, tolerant and with a sympathetic international outlook.

But Professor Stephen Monsma of the Henry Institute in Michigan warns Europeans against having unrealistic expectations: Obama might be more liberal than Bush but he would continue to put Americans first when he takes office, Monsma told swissinfo.

"My impression is that many Europeans see Obama as such an internationalist that they may even doubt whether he would ever put American self-interest first," he said.

"He will be a very tough negotiator. There is so much enthusiasm for Obama in Europe, even among the French. I'm sure that America's Nato allies are soon going to feel some pressure from the Obama government to send more troops to Afghanistan and we will see how excited the French are about that."

Easing unemployment pain

Monsma, a scholar in residence at Swiss bank UBS's Wolfsberg think tank, gave his views at a briefing in Thun, canton Bern, on Thursday.

He believes Obama's experience as a community worker in deprived areas of Chicago may have toughened his resolve to safeguard American jobs.

"Many of the problems people were facing were due to closures of steel mills and much of the blame was levelled at foreign competition. I am sure even today he could cite the names of people who lost their jobs as a result, allegedly, of foreign steel imports," Monsma said.

The current global economic downturn has led to huge numbers of job losses in the US. Obama hinted in his election campaign that he was prepared to act to ease the pain, according to Monsma.

"He is willing to come to the defence of the American automobile industry by putting billions of dollars of subsidy into the industry. He will be taking a close look at international treaties and asking what impact they could have on unemployment rates in the US," Monsma said.

"There may be some disappointment on the international scene as he works to protect American workers."

Against torture

But Monsma predicts better news for Europe regarding Obama's foreign policy. He believes the new president will demonstrate a real understanding of America's impact on the world and will not walk away from the negotiating table as quickly as Bush.

"I expect a quick change on issues such as the use of torture against suspected terrorists, Guantanamo Bay and holding suspects indefinitely," said Monsma.

He believes however that Obama has signalled his intent to concentrate on domestic matters first and foremost before looking to the outside world.

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Thun

Switzerland and Obama

President-elect Barack Obama and two other senators are behind a draft law called the "Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act", a 68-page document that blacklists Switzerland and more than 30 other countries as "probable tax evasion locations".

The plans foresee widening the powers of the US economic and finance ministries as well as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to investigate and punish tax evasion from countries the US considers tax havens.

One of the sanctions in the text would prohibit all foreign banks involved in tax evasion from introducing credit cards on the US market.

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Stephen Monsma

Stephen Monsma has a Masters from Georgetown University and a PhD from Michigan State University, both in political science. He taught at Calvin College, Michigan, from 1967 to 1972.

He served as a Democrat in the Michigan state House of Representatives and then Senate from 1972 to 1982.

He continued working in public service in Michigan until returning to academia in 1987 after failing to win election to the US national Senate.

He is currently a research fellow at the Henry Institute for the study of Christianity and politics in Michigan. He is also a scholar in residence at the UBS Wolfsberg think tank.

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