Francois Hollande, sworn in this week as French president, hasalready made waves by challenging Europe's austerity focus andsaying he will pull French combat troops from Afghanistan by theend of this year. Obama, 50, may use their introductory meeting in the Oval Office toencourage the 57-year-old Socialist to rethink his Afghanistanplans that put France on an earlier exit timetable than other NATOallies. But the two leaders, who have both expressed support for pro-growthpolicies in Europe, are expected to form a common front on the eurozone crisis that could dominate this weekend's Group of Eighttalks. Obama's administration spent heavily to tackle the 2007-2009 U.S.recession, and Hollande is seeking to take the edge off austeritywith more job-creating infrastructure investments. The G8 summit comes as Greeks are pulling cash from banks amidgrowing fears that it might crash out of the single currency eurozone, and financial markets have turned fearful about the prospectsof a full-blown crisis in Europe. |
Obama and other U.S. officials have urged European leadersrepeatedly to do more to stimulate growth in the region, fearingcontagion from the euro crisis could hurt the U.S. economy andthreaten Obama's chances of re-election on November 6. Heather Conley, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic andInternational Studies, said Hollande and Obama "see things verysimilarly about the need for a better balance between fiscalconsolidation, austerity and economic growth." That could put pressure on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who hasstressed the need for fiscal discipline to get the euro zonefinances back on track even as voters have toppled belt-tighteninggovernments. One of Obama's closest aides, National Security Adviser TomDonilon, said the United States welcomed the evolving debate inEurope about the "imperative for jobs and growth," but he said thepresident's intention was not to drive a wedge between Europe's twobiggest economies, Germany and France.
"I don't think that the nature of these conversations are going tobe anything like taking one side or the other," he told reporterson Thursday. "The president looks forward to leading a discussion among theleaders about the imperative of having a comprehensive approach tomanage the crisis and get on a sustainable path towards recovery inEurope." LIMITED POWER Obama, a Democrat, has pitched a similarly "balanced" approachcombining short-term stimulus and longer-term cuts to heal the U.S.economy and stoke hiring that has not recovered from the financialcrisis. His presumed White House opponent, Republican Mitt Romney, has madereducing the U.S. debt load which has escalated during Obama'stenure one of his key campaign messages.
"A balanced approach that includes not just austerity but growthand job creation is the right approach," White House spokesman JayCarney said on Thursday, explaining Obama's message to the G8. No economic policy outcomes are expected from the closed-door talksat Camp David, a rustic presidential escape about two hours fromWashington that Obama has visited far less frequently than hispredecessor George W. Bush. The White House moved the summit to the Maryland retreat fromChicago in part to give the meeting a more informal flavor, as wellas to escape the possibility of protests when Russian PresidentVladimir Putin was slated to attend.
His prime minister, Dmitri Medvedev, will be there instead alongwith G8 first-timers Hollande, Mario Monti of Italy and YoshihikoNoda of Japan, as well as Britain's David Cameron and Canada'sStephen Harper, plus Merkel and Obama. European CommissionPresident Jose Manuel Barroso and European Council President HermanVan Rompuy are also set to attend. The White House said each leader would get their own cabin, albeitof different sizes. It will be the largest international summitever held at Camp David, which was built in the 1930s and is bestknown as the site of past Middle East peace talks.
Conley of CSIS acknowledged Obama's power to exert influence overEurope over weekend was "somewhat limited." "Nevertheless, I think the president can play a role of listening,helping leaders find common ground," she said. "We are sitting onthe bleachers a bit. And we are going to have to watch how thisplays out with the frustration in recognizing that it will have aprofound impact for the global economy and for the U.S. economy." And Bruce Jones of the Brookings Institution said because Obama'sre-election prospects hinge so directly on the health of theAmerican economy, he has a huge interest in getting Europe on ahealthy growth track. "Even if he wasn't in an election season, anypresident of the United States has a lot riding on the Europeansgetting this right," he said.
(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan in Washington and John Irishin Paris; Editing by Cynthia Osterman).
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