Sunday

25th Jun 2017

All-night parties cheer Obama in EU capital

  • Over 2,000 people gathered at the Renaissance hotel in Brussels to watch the US election results (Photo: EUobserver)

EU officials, expats working for the European headquarters of multinational firms, Erasmus students and locals from every quarter of the Belgian capital partied on Tuesday night (4 November) in anticipation of a victory for Barack Obama in the US presidential vote.

Over 2,000 US expats and other international workers crammed into the Brussels Renaissance hotel down the road from the European Parliament for a party organised by the American Chamber of Commerce Belgium and the local chapters of Democrats Abroad and Republicans Abroad. The crowd celebrated as results came in on the huge screens through the night, despite the time zone difference.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The organisers set up a debate between representatives of the Republicans and Democrats. But the audience was clearly in favour of senator Barack Obama, who won 93 percent of the votes cast at a straw poll at the event, with only seven percent favouring his Republican rival, John McCain.

To Matt Graves, a 37-year-old French-speaking Texan who has lived in Belgium for 14 years, the election of senator Obama was a dream come true. Proudly wearing his cowboy hat with the inscription "Texans for Obama," Mr Graves told EUobserver that his home state is not all "red," despite the Texas end result coming out in favour of senator McCain.

"These are historical elections, it's absolutely amazing," he said, convinced that the new president will "greatly improve" relations with the European Union.

Belgian nationals were also present at the celebrations, such as Eric and Micheline Mathay, a couple who had also joined the election party for French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007.

"Mr Obama is the American Sarkozy," the 52-year-old accountant told this website, noting that Europeans have very high expectations from the newly elected US president in terms of a better dialogue on international affairs. But Mr Obama's popularity was likely to drop after the honeymoon ends, Mr Mathay argued, just as with the French president.

More responsibilities for the EU

An Obama presidency would mean not only more dialogue and involvement with the Europeans on the world stage, but also more responsibilities for the EU countries, argued Jamie Shea, the head of NATO's policy planning unit during the debate ahead of the first results.

The cost of multilateralism, for the EU countries, would soon be felt when "President Obama picks up the phone to Germany and France and tell them to commit more troops for the war in Afghanistan," he said.

In terms of the consequences of the first truly global financial crisis, Mr Shea said that multi-lateralism would also mean that rich countries such as Saudi Arabia and China would soon feel entitled to more voting rights in the International Monetary Fund than, for example, Luxembourg or Belgium, if their contribution is required to stabilise the markets.

This would also pose a challenge for the EU, especially in the context of a US president having to face pressure from a Democratic congress to keep his campaign promises in terms of social programmes and thus increase spending - in turn inflating the country's $33 trillion debt, Mr Shea argued.

To Michael R. Kulbickas, chair of Republicans Abroad Belgium, an Obama presidency would mean lower military spending.

"There is a danger that a reduced defence budget means fewer security guarantees for EU countries, especially eastern European ones," he told EUobserver. In terms of dealing with Russia, Mr Obama would prefer "appeasement" at the expense of countries such as Georgia and Ukraine, the Republican argued.

Meanwhile, on the other side of town

Across the city from the European quarter, outside the cafe at the Maison du Peuple [the people's house] - bedecked in red-white-and-blue bunting and red-white-and-blue Obama posters - a raucous crowd was trying to get into an election party hosted by the Party of European Socialists.

If there was a single McCain supporter amongst the gathered hipsters and immigrants in the student-heavy and working-class neighbourhood of St Gilles, he made himself well-disguised.

The square stretching out from the cafe, built as a house of working class self-education for Belgian trade unionists in the last century, was more packed than could ever be likely for any domestic election.

Zach Ellis, a young backpacker from New York happened across the event having not long got off the train in Brussels, and was dumbstruck that so many Belgians were paying attention to the election.

"It's awesome - the energy, the sympathy of the people in the street. They want somebody who's committed to ending our wars overseas - wars I don't want to fight in."

His new European friend, Martti Kaartinen, a "stagaire" with the Yehudi Menuhin Foundation, said he found out about the party via the internet, adding that the campuses of the francophone Universite Libre de Bruxelles and the Dutch-speaking Vrije Universiteit Brussel were covered in Obama posters.

"All of Europe is behind Obama. He's going to bring back some of the good things we think of about America," he said, while also preparing to be disappointed. "People here see him as a kind of European, but he's an American really, and a politician. Democrats have started wars as well."

Julio Diankenda, who moved to Belgium from the Congo when he was three, said he thought of Obama as a great symbol of hope for immigrants both in the US and in Europe.

"He tells people in Africa they can come from immigrant backgrounds and even be president. That's important for people to recognise here in Europe too."

European socialists roll out red carpet

Midway through the evening, it was time for the politicians to arrive, slicing their way through the crowds. Elio di Rupo, the president of the Walloon Socialists, was quick to say that Barack Obama was the choice of Belgium and of Europe.

"Obama is the sole candidate that is in accord with Europe. On the financial crisis, climate change - all the essential elements, his is a progressive programme, a humane discourse that is in accord with the grand ensemble of Europe."

He admitted that there were differences between a European Socialist view of the world and that of a free-market American Democrat, however. "We can't demand that he agree 100 percent with Europe. The reality is different in the United States."

His colleague, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, the president of the European Socialists, agreed that despite ideological differences, Mr Obama was the preferred candidate of the left in the European Parliament.

"The United States is not the same type of welfare state as we have here in Europe, but what is clear is that the overall vision is the same as Socialists, as Europeans," he said.

"[He believes] that the people come first and shouldn't pay for the mistakes of the better off whether in Wall Street or Frankfurt, that markets cannot do it all any longer on their own."

EU extends sanctions on Russia

German chancellor Angela Merkel said that Russia hadn't done enough to implement the so-called Minsk peace process, a condition for lifting the sanctions.

EU steps up global counter-terrorism drive

EU foreign ministers vowed to increase the number of projects and financial support in different parts of the world ahead of an EU summit in Brussels, where leaders will focus on security and defence.

Interview

EU visa waiver unlikely to import Ukraine crime

Visa-free travel, which began last week, unlikely to prompt a Ukrainian crime wave, an EU police expert has said, but Ukraine itself is seeing increases in lawlessness.

News in Brief

  1. Merkel and Macron hold symbolic joint press conference
  2. Juncker has 'no' clear idea of kind of Brexit UK wants
  3. Belgian PM calls May's proposal on EU citizens 'vague'
  4. UK lacks support of EU countries in UN vote
  5. Spain to command anti-smuggler Mediterranean force
  6. Estonia confirms opposition to Nord Stream 2 pipeline
  7. Ireland and Denmark outside EU military plan
  8. EU leaders renew vows to uphold Paris climate deal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUOn Public Services Day, Stop Austerity! Workers Need a Pay Rise!
  2. EGBAOnline Gambling: The EU Court Rejects Closed Licensing Regimes In Member States
  3. World VisionFaces of Today, Leaders of Tomorrow: Join the Debate on Violence Against Girls - 29 June
  4. ECR GroupThe EU Must Better Protect Industry from Unfair Competition
  5. Malta EU 2017Better Protection for Workers From Cancer-Causing Substances
  6. EPSUAfter 9 Years of Austerity Europe's Public Sector Workers Deserve a Pay Rise!
  7. Dialogue PlatformGlobalised Religions and the Dialogue Imperative. Join the Debate!
  8. UNICEFEU Trust Fund Contribution to UNICEF's Syria Crisis Response Reaches Nearly €200 Million
  9. EUSEW17Bringing Buildings Into the Circular Economy. Discuss at EU Sustainable Energy Week
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCan an Ideal Body Weight Lead to Premature Death?
  11. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Charges: What Does It Entail?
  12. World VisionWorld Refugee Day, a Dark Reminder of the Reality of Children on the Move

Latest News

  1. Macron’s investment screening idea watered down by leaders
  2. Leaders unimpressed by May’s offer to EU citizens
  3. New Irish PM praises unscripted nature of EU summits
  4. EU extends sanctions on Russia
  5. UK's universities set 'Brexit wish list'
  6. Decision on post-Brexit home for EU agencies postponed
  7. May's offer on citizens’ rights dismissed as ‘pathetic’
  8. 'Historic' defence plan gets launch date at EU summit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Social Services ConferenceDriving Innovation in the Social Sector I 26-28 June
  2. Dialogue PlatformMuslims Have Unique Responsibility to Fight Terror: Opinon From Fethullah Gülen
  3. EUSEW17Check out This Useful Infographic on How to Stay Sustainable and Energy Efficient.
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Criticises the Juncker Plan's Implementation
  5. The Idealist QuarterlyDoes Europe Really Still Need Feminism? After-Work Chat on 22 June
  6. EUSEW17Create an Energy Day Event Before the End of June. Join the Call for Clean Energy
  7. UNICEF1 in 5 Children in Rich Countries Lives in Relative Income Poverty, 1 in 8 Faces Food Insecurity
  8. International Partnership for Human Rights26 NGOs Call on Interpol Not to Intervene Versus Azerbaijani Human Rights Defenders
  9. Malta EU 2017Significant Boost in Financing for SMEs and Entrepreneurs Under New Agreement
  10. World VisionYoung People Rise up as EU Signs Consensus for Development at EU Development Days
  11. ILGA-EuropeLGBTI Activists and Businesses Fighting Inequality Together
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Prime Ministers Respond to Trump on Paris Agreement