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Europe fears Obama reverse will hurt ties with US

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Europe fears Obama reverse will hurt ties with US

Barack Obama - Photo EU Council

(BRUSSELS) - Europe fears President Barack Obama's mid-term reverse could further undermine ties with Washington, as a weakened president becomes forced to narrow his field of action, analysts say.

Ahead of his White House victory two years ago, "people sort of idealistically believed Obama will get in and all will be fine, that there'd be progress on issues such as climate, tensions, trade," said Hugo Brady at the Centre for European Reform."

"None of these hopes have been fulfilled," he told AFP. "Apart from moral underpinnings, there hasn't been a great deal of improvement."

But analysts pin much of the fault on the European Union itself, so sorely divided and slow to move that it failed to seize the opportunity of the "Obama Moment" of 2008.

"Europe wants to be a global player but lacks the will and strength," said Brady. "As long as that remains the case its relations with the United States will be unchanged."

Europe, added Alvaro de Vasconcelos, director of the EU Institute for Security Studies, "did not seize the window of opportunity opened by the start of the Obama presidency."

"It will have to make a far greater effort in the more complex phase that lies ahead."

Faced by a non-proactive Europe and the rise of emerging powers, Washington "has begun to understand the importance of taking on the multi-polar world," said Vasconcelos.

At the failed Copenhagen climate talks last December, Washington chose to deal with Beijing rather than Brussels.

And last spring a planned Obama summit with the EU in Madrid was cancelled at the last minute, humiliating the union of half a billion people, the world's largest trading bloc.

"We need a common approach to the rising powers," said Brady. "But we're a long way off."

The US ambassador to Belgium, de facto capital of Europe, on Wednesday said Obama's ballot-box defeat would not impact EU-US ties.

"With the election over, this frees us up for foreign policy," said ambassador Howard Gutman. "I think foreign policy will get a further boost. It won't be paralysed whatsoever."

But the Republican victory, led by the ultra-conservative Tea Party insurgency, will complicate outstanding foreign affairs issues that either need endorsement by Congress or that have budgetary implications.

Prominent Republican candidates for instance reject a broad consensus from the world's scientists that human activity is contributing to climate change.

And an ambitious bill to restrict carbon emissions remains stuck in the Senate -- multiplying the difficulties that lie ahead for Obama in making headway on a global climate deal.

Failing US climate legislation, "the Europeans will have to find another basis for negotiation," said the European Commission's spokeswoman for climate action Maria Kokkonen.

Likewise the US Congress may block ratification of the START II disarmament deal signed in April by Obama and his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev.

"This will have a negative bearing on US-Russia relations" that in turn will affect EU-Russia ties, said Vasconcelos.

On a more positive note, analysts believe efforts to hammer out a global economic policy are likely to remain on track.

That is, "unless the Tea-Party movement pushes the United States towards greater protectionism," said Elmar Brok, chairman of the delegation for relations with the US at the European parliament.

Regarding the Middle East, analysts believe Obama's defeat may free him from the need to keep the Jewish lobby happy, widening his negotiating capacity in the long run.

But Europe may turn out the immediate loser during a US-EU summit in Lisbon next month where "we risk seeing Obama reluctant to commit, seeking out what strategy to take vis-a-vis Congress," said Vasconcelos.

EU relations with the United States


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