As President Barack Obama heads to London for the G-20 economic summit Tuesday, a growing number of Europeans are displeased with his plans to deal with the global financial crisis, but they have not tempered their enthusiasm for him personally.
Obama was the most popular and most influential world leader in a February Harris Interactive survey of 6,299 adults in Western Europe and the United States, topping the Dalai Lama in popularity and Russia’s Vladimir Putin in influence.
More than 80 percent of those polled in Italy, France, Spain and Germany said they held either a “very good” or “somewhat good” opinion of the new American president. At the same time, 71 percent of those polled in the United States reported similar sentiments.
Still, an overwhelming majority of Europeans oppose the use of government funds to help the ailing international financial sector, a key tenet of Obama’s action plan.
In another Harris Interactive poll this month, more than 70 percent of those living in France, Spain, Italy and Germany said they oppose bank bailouts.
The European Union Central Bank is resisting calls from its counter parts in Britain, Japan and the United States to print more money, according to a recent Reuters report.
Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, one of Obama’s top allies, has been harshly reprimanded by several members of his Parliament for suggesting the economy might need more government stimulus.
And just last week, the Czech president of the European Union, Mirek Topolanek, ripped the Obama administration for putting the world on the “road to hell” by advocating bank bailouts and encouraging deficit spending to stimulate the economy.
“It’s no secret that within Europe there is a range of opinion about how to stimulate the economy and not put in jeopardy the future economic fundamentals by running high deficits,” said Anthony Smallwood, the chief spokesman for European Union consulate in Washington.
“There is still a fundamental disagreement about where we are headed,” added Alexei Monsarrat, director of the Global Business and Economics Program at the Atlantic Council.
Protests are expected outside the meetings this week in London, and police have fashioned an extraordinary security net to protect the visiting leaders. “There are a lot of hacked-off people,” London police commander Mike Bowron told Bloomberg News.
But the tough political environment has not soured the continent’s feelings for Obama.
“President Obama is an enormously popular figure,” Applewood said. “Europeans find him to be very a stimulating and uplifting character in the area they look to for America to provide: Leadership which Europeans can intellectually and morally agree.”
And Obama’s popularity is not confined just to Europe.
A January BBC World Service poll of 17 countries found that 67 percent of those surveyed believed Obama’s election would lead to improved international relations. Only 5 percent said his election would worsen relations.
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Obama was very popular throughout the world during the presidential campaign. A year ago, in a Pew Global Attitudes poll in 23 foreign countries, all but two of the countries surveyed expressed more confidence in the prospect of a Democratic Obama presidency that of his Republican rival, Arizona Sen. John McCain.
The only country where McCain enjoyed a major lead over Obama during the summer was Israel, where McCain held a 26 percent lead in a poll conducted by the Peace Index Project in July.
After Obama’s speech to than 100,000 people in Germany during the campaign in August, 76 percent of those Germans surveyed in January said they would like their own charismatic “German Obama,” according to the European-based Forsa polling firm.
Obama’s Germany trip was taken as a signal, that if elected president, he would be more open and accommodating to European views than former President George W. Bush, whose relations with Europe were sometimes strained.
“People are just so relieved that this is not the America that was,” Monsarrat said. “People don’t want to get back in the situation we were in during the last eight years where there was not a lot of cooperation.
Applewood added that “the whole image of the Obama campaign and the message that President Obama has given very strongly since taking office is one that Europeans associate with their most positive visions of the United States.”
But the EU spokesman also pointed out that Europeans frequently forget that “relations during the second term of the Bush presidency were pretty good.”
“The Freedom Fries period is already long behind us,” he said.
While much of Western Europe griped about Bush, he remained popular in much of Eastern Europe.
“Eastern Europeans came from a socialist background and are now some of the truest conservatives in Europe,” said Darrell West, director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution
In Europe, Applewood suggested, many are willing to give Obama some time, hoping he can “address the problem” and lead a worldwide economic turnaround.