Germans happy with Obama win, but still disagree on austerity

If Germans could have voted, Obama's reelection would have been a foregone conclusion due to the president's 85 percent approval rating.

Jens Meyer/AP
Americans and Germans celebrate with flags around cardboard figures of US President Barack Obama, left, and Gov. Mitt Romney, right, during the 'Election Party' organized by the US consulate in Leipzig, Germany, on Tuesday.

There isn’t a single front page in Germany today that does not carry a picture of a triumphant Barack Obama and his family, and most newspapers do not hide their satisfaction about Obama’s reelection.

America’s better half” is the headline of the left-leaning Tageszeitung, “Obama raises new hope” says Berliner Zeitung.

But there are hints too that Germany has certain expectations. “Do it again, but better” reads the headline of Germany’s influential weekly Die Zeit.

If Germans could have voted for a US president, the elections would have been a foregone conclusion. A survey just before the elections by pollsters YouGov found that 85 percent would vote for Obama with only 4 percent in favor of Mitt Romney. Support for Obama is found in all age groups and across Germany’s social and political spectrum. The number of those who think that the president has done a good job so far is considerably lower though – around 60 percent.

The enthusiasm for Obama might seem surprising, given that the president did not meet a number of German expectations, says Johannes Thimm of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin.

“While Obama replaced the unilateral foreign policy of the Bush administration with a multilateral approach his focus was much more on the Asian-Pacific region,” Mr. Thimm says.

Europe did not feature in the election campaign, and the German government was irritated by American insistence on a stimulus package to overcome the eurozone debt crisis when the official German cure was rigid austerity. Further, Obama did not manage to close the Guantanamo prison camp – an issue that Germans feel strongly about – and he intensified the drone attacks on insurgents in Afghanistan, again, a policy seen very critically in Germany.

On the other hand there is a lot of sympathy here with Obama’s social and economic objectives. Obamacare is to most Germans, who grew up with mandatory health insurance, a matter of obvious necessity. The president’s efforts to help the struggling US car manufacturers was applauded by German trade unionists and employers alike.

What remains to be seen though is whether Germans are still so fond of Obama when the president – in his efforts to sort out America’s budget and debt problems – tells Europe, and most of all Germany, to shoulder a bigger share of responsibility in solving political, financial, and military crises around the globe.

“We can’t say we didn’t ask for it,” is the dry conclusion of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

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