Obama Gears up for European Extravaganza | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 31.03.2009
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Obama Gears up for European Extravaganza

Barack Obama's visit to Europe marks his first major overseas trip since being sworn into office. Expectations are high as the US President takes part in three major conferences across the continent.

Obama speaks on a podium with one raised hand and the words Judgement to Lead on a sign in front of him

Europe is looking to Obama to lead the way on several issues

Though it may not match the 200,000 people who turned up to hear "Obama the candidate" speak in Berlin, the US president is likely to receive a warm welcome from Europe's leaders and the general public on a visit that begins this Tuesday.

But there's an even greater sense of expectation this time around. Europe wants to know if "Obama the president" will live up to the hype.

The first stop on his whirlwind tour is London, where he'll be the star attraction at the Thursday meeting of the Group of 20 nations. There is no question that the world economy will be at the top of the agenda, but what is not clear is whether Obama and European leaders can agree on how to act.

Last week, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek described Obama's economic stimulus package as the "road to hell." While other European leaders distanced themselves from Topolanek's comment, there are serious differences of opinion between the US and European governments.

Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek speaks at the European Parliament

Topolanek said the US was repeating the mistakes of the 1930s

Craig Kennedy, president of the German Marshall Fund in Washington, said Europe is concerned that the US approach includes too much stimulus and not enough regulation.

"The size of the American stimulus and the size of our resulting deficits are causing tremendous concern," he said.

Restoring America's standing

Obama is officially visiting Europe to take part in international conferences, but the trip is a symbolic one too.

The visit is a "fundamental part of the president's agenda of restoring America's standing in the world and particularly Europe," presidential advisor Dennis McDonough said.

Ties between Europe and the US became strained during the previous administration of George W. Bush, especially over the invasion of Iraq.

During his tour, Obama will meet with the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Turkey and the Czech Republic. He's also set to hold talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev while in London.

Relations between the US and Russia came under particular strain last year during the Russian-Georgian war. Washington is also concerned that Moscow's aid to Tehran's nuclear energy program could help the Islamic Republic develop nuclear weapons. Iran maintains its nuclear program serves only civilian purposes.

Russia, on the other hand, objects to US plans to build a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, and disapproves of NATO's push to extend membership to the ex-Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia.

On with the tour

After the G20 summit in London, Obama heads to Strasbourg, France, for a summit marking the 60th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

A NATO soldier in uniform patrols a street with civilians

Violence in Afghanistan is at its highest level since US-led forces toppled the Taliban in 2001

He's set to use the occasion to urge NATO countries to support his new strategy for Afghanistan, which he outlined last week.

Obama announced the deployment of an extra 4,000 troops, on top of the 17,000 reinforcements already planned. His new strategy also includes an increase of civilian personnel, and a greater focus on fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban, particularly along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

European governments have welcomed Obama's new Afghanistan strategy, but NATO members know that Obama will now expect increased contributions from them too.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced that Germany will boost its training of police and security forces in Afghanistan, but has previously ruled out an increase of combat troops.

The forgotten issue

Somewhere down on the to-do list is climate change. The issue is up for discussion at a meeting of the 27 European Union heads of state in Prague, the third stop on Obama's tour.

The Kyoto Protocol is due to be replaced at talks in Copenhagen at the end of the year, and climate change meetings are taking place across the globe in the lead-up to December.

US climate envoy Todd Stern in front of a UN climate banner

Stern said the US does not have a magic wand to fix the climate

The Obama administration made its international climate debut last weekend at UN talks in Bonn. Todd Stern, Obama's special climate envoy, pledged to "make up for lost time" and called for more action by all nations.

Stern did say, however, that the US wanted to work towards a treaty that was economically "doable." But comments like this have some observers concerned about the United States' commitment to fighting climate change.

Craig Kennedy says that, despite the new administration's rhetoric, there are doubts in Europe that Obama will be serious about climate change. "People look at the deficit; people look at the pressures on the American economy, and people are starting to ask whether or not this is really going to be the highest priority," he said.

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