President Obama Does Not Mince Words On Europe
Despite signals that POTUS would tread with caution in London on the most sensitive of prickly issues -- Britain’s membership in the EU -- what Britons got instead was a full-throated defense of that membership. Repeatedly and emphatically, the President argued that “the European Union doesn’t moderate British influence – it magnifies it.” He maintained that a strong Europe enhances Britain’s global leadership. While stressing that British voters, not he, were the ones who would decide whether Britain stays in the EU, the President didn’t hesitate, as a friend, to share his deeply held opinions. With particular gusto, he both defended the special relationship between the U.S. and the U.K. and forthrightly stated that a U.K. outside the EU would go to the “back of the queue” if it sought to negotiate a trade deal with the U.S. on its own.
Outrage over such unprecedented intervention from a foreigner poured out of the Brexit camp. London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, went so far as to say that the President harbored an “ancestral dislike of the British empire.” Other images belied that characterization. President Obama visited the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to wish her a happy 90th birthday. He dined with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. But the star power of that assemblage of luminaries turned out to pale in comparison to that of the true showstopper, two-year-old Prince George, who welcomed the President and First Lady in his PJs, robe, and slippers before being whisked off to bed. Those personal encounters seemed a testament to a relationship that indeed remains special.
Continuing on to Germany, the President’s voice was equally outspoken in supporting Chancellor Merkel’s “courageous” stand on refugees. He spoke about how he admired her. He declared that she is “on the right side of history,” continuing on to say: “for her to take on some very tough politics in order to express not just a humanitarian concern but also a practical concern, that in this globalized world, it is very difficult for us to simply build walls, she is giving voice I think to the kinds of principles that bring people together rather than divide them. And I'm very proud of her for that. And I'm proud of the German people for that.” He was telling it like he saw it.
As expected, the Chancellor and the President spoke out in strong support of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP), an agreement that both leaders see as part of their own legacies. While a majority in Europe welcomes T-TIP, Germans have been increasingly skeptical of the agreement over the past two years. With the Hannover Messe, the world’s largest industrial technology trade fair, as the backdrop, the President made the case for not turning inward, but rather keeping the commitment to increasing trade and investment that supports jobs.
Before leaving Germany, the President delivered a speech to the “People of Europe.”. He had come to the “heart of Europe,” he declared, to say that the United States and the whole world need a strong, prosperous, democratic, and united Europe. “Perhaps you need an outsider,” he said, “someone who is not European, to remind you of the magnitude of what you have achieved.” The question now is whether the President’s positive narrative rings true to Europeans and whether a majority will continue to see a united Europe as both an aspiration and a necessity. The answer to that question matters tremendously on both sides of the Atlantic.
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