Europe Has Barack Obama to Thank

The U.S. president ended his visit to Hannover, Germany with an urgent appeal for European unity. Europe should heed his words and finally grow up, instead of erecting new walls.

Why is he taking this upon himself? At the opening of the trade fair in Hannover, Germany, Obama went from stand to stand — Obama, the most powerful man in the world, in a German province, when even major capitals are not good enough to host a president. Why? Obama thanked Angela Merkel and the Germans for their loyalty (a very different approach from his predecessor) and for the flair for leadership demonstrated by the chancellor, who sees more in Europe than just a monetary community.

In his elegy to Europe, the U.S. president shocked and provoked the motley “Brexit” coalition. The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who is usually equipped with more sophisticated arguments, even took a stab at Obama’s African origins in an attempt to denounce him. Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party and king of armchair politics, spoke of Obama’s statements as “utter nonsense.”

One thing is clear: Obama’s words have hit home. Before the visit, it was agreed upon in Brussels that the only thing able to change the British penchant for a “Brexit” would be the U.S. president. Obama’s realistic plan for drafting a British-American trade agreement in five years’ time at the earliest, but more likely in 10, is seen as the worst case scenario by anti-Brussels groups.

On his farewell tour, the U.S. president decided to ditch his often-criticized foreign policy of “I don’t care” and chose to instead explain to Europeans what they are lucky enough to have on their continent, while also pointing out their current woes.

On the one hand, Obama shook his head at the disunity across Europe and at the urge felt by some to rebuild walls; on the other, he praised the successes of European unification, a system that is already being described as one of the great triumphs of our modern age.

Obama, the reserved foreign politician, called for greater personal foreign political responsibility, even if it is expensive and tiresome. He explained that Europe’s days as a constantly overburdened, pacifying and hesitant community are numbered.

Obama, who has been criticized by brilliant minds, like Josef Joffe, for his “illusory foreign policy” has outlined a both clear and powerful “illusion” of Europe that is idealistic and politically realistic at the same time. This illusion hinges on politicians who focus more of their attention on the cradle of democracy than on wearily maintaining a poor status quo.

If the U.S. is no longer going to play its unpopular dual role of governess and bodyguard, Europe needs to grow up faster. And if Obama’s intervention in the U.K. is successful, then Merkel will be able to count on the U.K. again when it comes to pushing the sluggish European Union toward growth and competition. This would be some achievement for Obama, after just a few days’ work.

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