Europe is thrilled by the prospect of an Obama victory at the polls : all surveys show that more than 70% of European citizens would vote for the Democratic contender against his Republican challenger. However an Obama presidency will be a major challenge for Europe. Suddenly in a few hours the image of the U.S. will change and Europe with its neo-nazis in Vienna, its trash TV king in Rome and its ultra-conservative dinosaurs in Warsaw will look old and passé, grey and brown.
Obama has indeed the capacity to radically increase the soft power of his country because he has been able to articulate the hopes of hundreds of millions of people around a message of reason and compassion.
Compared to Obama’s audacity of hope the European Union will have to show that it is as inspiring as the new White House resident. A tough assignment, a losing proposition, if one looks at the current European political panorama.
The onus will fall in particular on the European liberals and progressives. However as bad as the European neopopulists can be these liberal forces have been mostly unable to develop a convincing response to the economic and financial crisis rocking the world. The French socialists are fighting each other, Dominique Strauss-Kahn gets in the news for his private affairs more than for his bold proposals, Belgian socialists are mostly silent, German social-democrats seem to be clueless between Angela Merkel and Die Linke, etc etc.
The two European leaders that seem most reactive to the crisis, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel, belong to conservative parties.
The more (mildly) progressive winds seem to blow from the West to the East over the Atlantic. Obama, despite his cautious centrism, is a radical departure from the dark days of the Bush administration and definitely a progress on the road to decency. Quite a few surveys conclude that the younger U.S. generation is more open and more liberal than their elders. Compare that with the 40% of Austrian youth (the future past for Hitler’s youth?) voting for extreme right parties.
Europe seems adrift and its liberal voices are smothered by rising populism. By giving the Nobel Economics Prize to the U.S. columnist and professor Paul Krugman the Stockholm jury has apparently recognized this pitiful state of affairs: it seems to trust more a U.S. liberal thinker to defend the European social-democratic model than a European social democrat.