George W Bush has done more than any other US president to undermine the reputation of the USA in the world. Less than one in five Europeans approve of President Bush’s handling of international policies. Europeans are not anti-American – almost four out of 10 Europeans still believe that US leadership in world affairs is desirable (although this figure is down from over six in 10 in 2002).
So what is my expectation of the new president? I understand why some people think that anyone is better than George W Bush, but surely Sarah Palin makes people doubt McCain’s seriousness. As president of the PES – the European political party bringing together Europe’s socialist, social democratic and labour parties – I am unashamedly excited at the possibility of a young, charismatic Afro-American called Barack Obama becoming President. What difference would it make? I believe there would be three significant changes.
First, whereas Bush cut social spending and gave tax cuts to the super rich, Obama’s Plan for America offers clear commitments to widen health care, tackle poverty and improve education for all.
A US president with a commitment to the well-being of ordinary citizens would generate renewed interest in social justice and social policy worldwide. It would be good not only for the workers of America but also for social democracy in Europe. It would inspire trade unionists and progressive politicians throughout the world.
Already the US Democrats have engaged with European social democrats on reform of the international financial markets. Like the PES, the Democrats want financial markets that sustain jobs in modern industries instead of seeking excessive, short-term profits at the expense of others.
Second, whereas Bush is an oilman and was for many years a climate sceptic, Obama wants to tackle climate change. It is a monumental task, but one cannot afford not to take on. The prospect of the US and the EU sharing the same goals would make meaningful global action far more feasible. Committing to Kyoto would alone be a reason for rejoicing, and here even McCain is better than Bush.
Third, Obama promises to renew American diplomacy, and to talk to foes as well as friends. The Texan cowboy will be gone. This would offer an opening for a renewed partnership between the EU and US, and possibly more cooperation with the UN. Obama does not see the world only as a security problem – a place to pursue a global war against terror – he knows the other issues: climate, energy, poverty, disease.
I am not naïve. Differences in EU-US priorities would not melt away. The new president would have to protect American interests through a recession. US Democrats are suspicious of world trade. But the difference if Obama was elected is that US Democrats have a real desire to engage with others, to find common ground, to work in partnership.
With conservatives in the majority in Europe and America, the fear and fatalism have dominated. Obama’s message of change brings hope. Perhaps the biggest factor is psychological – a new, young, gifted President offering the possibility of a new dialogue on the world’s problems, the hopes of the planet. It won’t be easy but it will be better. I am looking forward to it.
Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, is President of the Party of European Socialists, and was Prime Minister of Denmark 1993-2001
The discussion will continue at America Votes, Europe Responds, a conference held by the Fabian Society on 8 November