Even before his election to the White House, Barack Obama was already a winner in the eyes of many Europeans. His visit to Berlin last year was proof of that. For those keen to repair relations damaged under Bush, Obama had the right kind of words. He said: “America has no better partner than Europe. Now is the time to build new bridges across the globe, as strong as the one that binds us across the Atlantic.”
Obama’s promise of a new beginning came as music to the ears of those in Europe who say the US needs to stop acting alone. They want new initiatives in the Middle East: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and Iran are top of the list of high expectations. Co-President of the Greens group at the European Parliament, Daniel Cohn Bendit, said: “I hope the new Obama administration will find new political approaches, develop new theories. The Americans must negotiate with the Egyptians, Hamas and with Iran, in order to find a solution with a regional dimension.” The Guantanamo Bay prison has also been at the centre of discord between Europe and Washington. But Obama says he will waste no time in getting it closed down. That news has gone down well in Brussels. EU Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs, Jacques Barrot, said: “Let’s salute this good idea on the part of President Obama, knowing that we can fight terrorism and at the same time respect a certain number of rules: ethical rules, rules of justice. This is where I can see the chance for a new partnership between Europe and the US.” But a partnership when it comes to economics could be harder to manage. A recent G20 summit showed up the different approaches between Washington and Brussels. European leaders are hoping these can be resolved at the next summit of the G20 in London in April. Environmentalists also have a long list of demands to present to Obama on climate change, hoping the US will change direction after Bush’s long-standing resistance to the Kyoto accord. Whatever transpires, US-European relations are set to change dramatically: but both sides know that the higher the expectations, the higher the chance of disappointment when they do not see eye to eye.