Global Independent Analytics

Obama urges Europeans to fight forces of xenophobia and division

U.S. President urged his European allies to stop being isolated and nationalist and pressed Europe to remain united and open to refugees fleeing war and poverty

Greg Jaffe for The Washington Post reports: “We have to uphold our values not just when it is easy but when it’s hard,” Obama said. The European Union is facing a major crisis of confidence caused by enormous flows of refugees, a slow economy and growing fears of terrorism. Obama acknowledged those problems, but his speech at a massive trade fair seemed designed to rally the continent.

Obama has recurrently promoted the idea of the need for the European Union to reject forces of anger and division that are now increasingly a part of their citizens’ politics. “I know that some will call it blind hope when I say that I am confident that forces that bind Europe together are ultimately much stronger than those trying to pull you apart,” the president said. “But hope is not blind when it is rooted in the memory of all that you have already overcome. Your parents. Your grandparents. I say to you, the people of Europe, don’t forget who you are. You are the heirs to a struggle for freedom.”

Jaffe continues: “In a speech that stretched nearly an hour, Obama catalogued the biggest problems facing both Europe and the United States. He talked about growing income inequality on both sides of the Atlantic, the threat of Russian aggression in Ukraine, and fears that governments are using the terrorism threat to invade the privacy of their citizens. He also used the address to describe his plans to bolster the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.” Obama pledged to enforce security forces in Syria, claiming that “these terrorists will learn the same lesson as others before them have, which is your hatred is no match for our nations united in the defense of our way of life.”

White House aides have noted that his speech somewhat resembles the one that he had delivered eight years ago while campaigning for the presidential nomination in 2008. While being more rational and aware of the problems that Europe, which has had its confidence shaken, currently faces, he drew parallels to the bitter and divisive politics in the United States, which he spoke of with regret during his State of the Union address and at a Baltimore mosque earlier this year. “I know the politics of immigration and refugees is hard. It is hard everywhere, in every country,” he said. “All of us have to step up. All of us have to share this responsibility — that includes the United States.”

Obama called for the EU to unite during such unsettling times; considering the Europe’s closeness to the Middle East conflicts and, respectively, the historic influx of refugees, the downsides, and dangers globalization have been felt more quickly and acutely on the continent. “When the future is uncertain, there seems to be an instinct in our human nature to withdraw to the perceived comfort and security of our own tribe, our own sect, our nationality. People, who look like us, sound like us. In today’s world, more than any time in human history, that is a false comfort,” he continued.

Such thinking, Obama warned, could lead to “oppression,” “segregation,” “internment camps” — a powerful message in Germany where memories of the horrors of Nazism and the Holocaust are a major part of modern German’s identity.

In order to fight those dangers, the U.S. President urged his European allies to continue the great European experiment, and made the case for a massive and controversial trade deal – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – that is being negotiated between the United States and the European Union. He pinpointed that both American and European governments should cooperate in order to address income inequality by adopting the TTIP agreement. Resolving the issue would eventually boost economies and close the gap between the super-rich and everyone else, insisted Mr. Obama.

Last, but not least, he defended the National Security Agency’s massive intelligence collection efforts, which have already stirred controversy when it was revealed that the United States had been listening in on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone calls. He nevertheless claimed that in order to prevent terrorism from spreading, security measures and privacy borders should meet at an intersection.

Jaffe concludes: His speech, though, seemed designed primarily to boost Europe’s flagging confidence and to counter anti-democratic and xenophobic forces that, 70 years after the end of World War II, are once again finding a foothold on the continent. “People starved on this continent. Families were separated on this continent,” Obama said. Now refugees were risking their lives to come to Europe.

“People desperately want to come here precisely because of what you’ve created,” he said. “You can’t take that for granted.”

 

By Stefan Paraber for GIA.

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