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Europe

Europeans Hope Obama's Change Reaches Across Atlantic

Many officials in the European Union are trying to keep their expectations for the future of trans-Atlantic relations under Barack Obama realistic. But they admit there is much room for improvement.

Obama waves

Many in the EU expect Obama to reach out a hand to Europe

Under outgoing US President George W. Bush, defeat in tackling some of the world's most pressing problems was often blamed on a lack of trans-Atlantic cooperation.

"I sincerely hope that with the leadership of President Obama, the US will join forces with Europe," said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, adding that, together, the US and EU could work "for the benefit of our societies (and) the world."

The most immediate crisis facing the world is the global credit crunch, which originated in the US, and which many Europeans blame squarely on excessive deregulation in the US markets.

"While the financial crisis and its economic fall-outs come primarily from the absence or lack of regulation of US markets, our duty is to work hand in hand with the United States," said Joseph Daul, who chairs the conservative grouping in the European Parliament.

President Bush next to an American flag

Bush, not Obama, will be heading the first major financial reform summit in Washington

The leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Italy will travel to Washington on Nov. 15 for the first in a series of international summits aimed at reforming the way global finance is run.

While Obama will not be in charge until January, Europeans like French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who believe capitalism should be constrained and corporate salaries curbed, might find a sympathetic ear in the future Democratic leadership.

But when it comes to finding remedies to the global economic slowdown, trans-Atlantic teamwork could well break down.

Free trade at risk?

The EU's executive arm, the European Commission, believes that free trade is the best way to promote global prosperity. But judging from some of the comments he made on the campaign trail, there is a concrete risk that Obama's protectionist instincts may stand in the way of a deal.

"Look, people don't want a cheaper t-shirt if they're losing a job in the process," Obama said in August. "They would rather have the job and pay a little bit more for a t-shirt."

A melting iceberg

Obama's stance on climate change is more Euro-friendly than Bush's

Another major issue on the global agenda is the fight against climate change. Bush's opposition to committing his country to clear targets on cutting greenhouse gas emissions unless other major polluters such as China and India do the same is seen by many Europeans as one of the main obstacles to saving the planet.

And Obama's frequent remarks that protecting the environment should be seen as an opportunity, rather than a challenge, have sounded like sweet music in many European ears.

"He will influence how China and developing countries reason about climate issues," Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said.

Russia on front burner

For many Europeans, the main challenge of the United States and European Union will be its handling of an increasingly belligerent Russia.

Dmitry Medvedev

Both US candidates wanted to take a tough line with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

While people like Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus hope that Obama's "strong stand in the face of Russia's aggression against Georgia" will help countries like his feel better protected, diplomatic doves like Germany hope the democrat's multilateralism will help restore relations with the EU's most powerful neighbor.

Though his willingness to engage in diplomatic dialogue with rogue states like Iran is likely to resonate positively in Berlin, Obama's call for a stronger European role in NATO's fight against Afghanistan's Taliban will cause unease in many European capitals.

EU hopes for change

Obama's election is unequivocal good news for those EU countries for whom the defense of human rights represents a top priority.

Commenting on the victory, Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen said Obama's election should increase the chances that the US join the International Criminal Court in The Hague and close down the internationally controversial US prison on Guantanamo Bay on Cuba.

As Javier Solana, the EU's top diplomat, put it, Obama achieved a "fantastic victory" based on the promise of change.

"And change is what we need in the world today," he said.

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