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March 13, 2009

European Leaders Push Back on Obama’s Calls for Aid

Filed under: Politics — eritrearealclearpolitics @ 8:12 pm

MARCH 13, 2009

By JONATHAN WEISMAN in Washington and MARC CHAMPION in Brussels

Ahead of a high-stakes economic meeting of the Group of 20 nations, European countries are striking an uncompromising tone toward Washington, bolstering President Barack Obama’s political opponents at home and pouring some cold water on Europe’s love affair with the new U.S. president.

In Berlin Thursday, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at his side, French President Nicolas Sarkozy explicitly rejected Mr. Obama’s push for more global fiscal stimulus, declaring, “the problem is not about spending more, but putting in place a system of regulation so that the economic and financial catastrophe that the world is seeing does not reproduce itself.”

[France's Nicolas Sarkozy with Germany's Angela Merkel]

France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, in Berlin with Germany’s Angela Merkel, rejected a U.S. push for more global stimulus.

Meanwhile, a U.S. official responded Thursday with pique to a British decision to initiate a direct dialogue with the political arm of Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia and political party, which the U.S. lists as a terrorist organization. Surprise splits on foreign policy between the U.S. and U.K. are rare. The U.S. official said he wants the British to explain “the difference between the political, military and social wings of Hezbollah, because we don’t see a difference.”

The divisions underscore that even when presidents change, some national interests don’t. For continental Europe, focusing on underregulation helps deflect blame for the crisis to the more lightly governed financial markets of the U.S. and U.K. The American push for more stimulus, in turn, shifts the blame to Europe for being too slow to respond to the ongoing economic slump.

Republicans in Congress are brandishing Mr. Sarkozy’s speech and others to paint Mr. Obama as to the left of Europe. “Economists, even Europeans, skeptical of Administration’s economic recovery plans,” blared an email headline from House Minority Leader John Boehner (R., Ohio).

The emergence Thursday of a nine-page communique from France detailing 12 different proposals on tax havens and regulations underscored what the French and German governments have been saying publicly. Ms. Merkel said Germany and France were united in their conviction that the G-20 summit must fulfill their pledges to remake global capitalism.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Thursday that Mr. Obama was giving equal weight to the current need for fiscal stimulus and to stricter regulation to avoid future crises. “The president looks at the trip to the London economic summit not as an ‘either-or’ but as a ‘both-and’ proposition,” Mr. Gibbs said.

Mr. Obama remains hugely popular in Europe and is likely to get a warm welcome at the summits of the G-20 April 2 and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization April 3-4. His moves to renew relations with Moscow and engage Syria and Iran have been warmly applauded. Germany and France are hosting the NATO summit and had hoped to make it a celebration of France’s decision to rejoin the alliance fully.

But with the U.S. determined to secure more European troops and support, “Afghanistan is always going to be the ghost at the feast,” says Nick Witney, Paris-based senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. The Obama administration has already begun asking NATO countries to contribute more manpower and financial resources to Afghanistan, and aides say the president will press the case personally at the summit.

Europe’s leaders are increasingly aware Mr. Obama is asking for help they can’t or don’t want to provide. On his trip, “If Obama simply says I am dropping in for a day or two with a long shopping list, I think the honeymoon really will be over,” says Timothy Garton Ash, professor of European history at Oxford University.

Thursday’s comments by Ms. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy, aimed largely at the audiences in their own countries, were peppered with references to their unified approach. Ms. Merkel faces elections this fall and is losing support to opponents who say she already has raised government spending too much. Mr. Sarkozy, meanwhile, last month saw his poll ratings drop to the lowest since he was elected, 36% in an Ipsos poll.

—Jay Solomon contributed to this article

Write to Jonathan Weisman at and Marc Champion at


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