Opinion

No more hiding behind Bush for Europe

20.01.09 @ 08:54

  1. By Poul Nyrup Rasmussen

I am thrilled and honoured to be attending the inauguration of the President of the United States of America - a young, charismatic African-American with a message of hope. There has not been a president since John F. Kennedy who has inspired such hope.

  • Poul Nyrop Rasmussen: Barack Obama offers hope of change to Europe as well, but can a conservative-run EU change with him? (Photo: PES)

"Yes we can" is an attitude urgently needed today. To tackle the challenges facing the world, we have to believe that change for the better is possible. This is true for African-Americans, for Palestinians and Israelis, for Europeans worried about their jobs, for people everywhere. We must overcome the fear and fatalism that have dominated since conservatives won majorities in both the US and the nations of Europe.

With recession looming, along with the threat of mass unemployment, we need to start believing that people working together can improve lives. The same is true for the conflicts in the Middle East and the recent tragic events in Gaza. We must move on from the conservative pessimism that our lives must be ruled by the market. We must engage in global politics in a more positive way than with a world-view dominated by the War on Terror.

It is for that reason that I believe Barack Obama has the chance to make a real difference, of a kind not seen since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The New Deal crafted by Mr Roosevelt delivered the US economy from the grips of the Great Depression and Obama faces a similar task today. All indications so far are that he intends to act fast, decisively and on a big scale. There is a clear determination for the recovery plan to be aimed at Main Street as much as Wall Street, and for there to be tangible improvements in health care, education and job prospects.

Pushing Europe

Mr Obama could also push Europe to pull its weight and implement a similarly ambitious recovery plan. I am sceptical whether the EU's current recovery plan, agreed in December, is enough. More needs to be done and I believe the new American president's plan will make European leaders go further than they have so far. I also believe the Obama administration will move on financial market regulation, here too putting pressure on the EU to deliver effective reform.

His promise to renew American diplomacy, with Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, offers Europe an opportunity to build a new partnership with the US, and the chance of a renewed sense of purpose for the United Nations. Mr Obama will do far more than Mr Bush to encourage dialogue to solve the world's conflicts, starting, I hope, with Israel-Palestine, as this is at the heart of insecurity for the entire region.

Barack Obama replaces oilman and climate sceptic George W. Bush with a commitment to join the fight against climate change. With the EU and US both identifying this as a major global challenge, and sharing the goals of increasing renewable energy and reducing fossil fuel dependency, there is a real opportunity for progress.

Cynics say it will all end in disappointment. I don't agree. Mr Roosevelt wasn't able to do everything he wanted, but his New Deal was hugely influential and he is now acknowledged as one of the country's great presidents. Mr Obama certainly cannot achieve everything, but progress on any of the great global challenges would be a huge step forward.

A conservative-run European Union

For me, the new president poses a test to Europe's ability to deliver. There can be no more hiding behind George W. Bush as an excuse for failure. Europe has an opportunity with Barack Obama. But can a conservative-run European Union seize it? We will find out in the coming months if the European Union is serious about re-launching the global economy, about Middle East peace, about tackling climate change, about the Millennium Development Goals, or if rhetoric matters more than action to EU conservatives.

The election of President Obama, and his diverse new administration, represents hope for many that change for the better is achievable here in Europe too. I believe we can, and we must, rise to that challenge on both sides of the Atlantic.

Poul Nyrup Rasmussen is president of the Party of European Socialists and former prime minister of Denmark