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Sharp Differences Dull U.S. Influence On Euro Crisis


The eurozone crisis has weighed heavily on the global economy and it will remain a central foreign-policy challenge for President Obama or Mitt Romney, whichever man wins in November. The Obama administration has repeatedly urged eurozone countries to shift their focus from austerity to growth. This week, we're focusing on foreign policy issues facing the next administration.

And NPR's Sylvia Poggioli has this story on the eurozone.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI BYLINE: After the June 20th G-20 Summit in Mexico, President Obama said the U.S. has a profound interest in seeing Europe prosper.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Europe, as a whole, is our largest trading partner. And if fewer folks are buying stuff in Paris or Berlin, that means that we're selling less stuff made in Pittsburgh or Cleveland.

BYLINE: Fearing the eurozone implosion could lead to global recession, Washington has had constant contacts - public and private - with European leaders. But there's never been a meeting of the minds.

Elena Carletti, an economist at the European University in Florence, Italy, says cultural and ideological differences between consumer-oriented Americans and savings-oriented Germans prevented agreement on tackling the crisis.

ELENA CARLETTI: It's a very different approach. Which is one is right or wrong is not clear. It depends very much on how the citizens respond to a particular policy. And that response has a lot to do with the social behavior, with culture of the country. It's not just rational.

BYLINE: The emotional and cultural dimensions of the economic crisis have often led to strident trans-Atlantic confrontations, with several European leaders blaming the so-called Anglo-Saxon financial model for the euro crisis. Citing what he called unorthodox policies of American capitalism, EU Commission president Manuel Baroso went so far as to declare: Europe does not receive lessons on how to handle its economy.

And German Chancellor Angela Merkel has blamed financial markets like Wall Street for not serving the people, allowing a few to get rich at the expense of the many.

But despite 20 crisis summits in three years, EU leaders have failed to restore confidence in the future of the single currency.

Jan Techau, Europe director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says whatever administration comes out of the November elections, the U.S. will still need a stable European economy, but will have little clout in bringing it about.

JAN TECHAU: There is so very little that the Americans can do to actually influence problem-solving in Europe. This is fundamentally a home game for the Europeans - they have to get their act together themselves. It's their homework, not that of the United States president.

BYLINE: Washington's frustration with Europeans' political wrangling has been exacerbated by the growing divisions within the EU, triggered by the euro crisis itself. A growing north-south divide between creditors and debtors has led to a revival of national stereotypes and euro-skepticism is fuelling new extremist, populist parties.

The latest EU poll of all 27 member states reveals a deeply polarized public opinion. A solid 72 percent of EU citizens says jobs and combating unemployment is the top priority, compared to 65 percent of Germans who put reducing debt at the top of their list.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti has called for a special summit to revive the idea of a united Europe, warning of the danger of EU disintegration.

Sergio Romano, a former Italian ambassador to Russia, says another wrinkle in the trans-Atlantic relationship concerns relations with Moscow.

SERGIO ROMANO: There are some section of the American public opinion, it seems to me, that still considers Russia as a potential enemy. But now this is not the case with the Europeans. When they think of Russia they don't think of a potential enemy, they think of a potential market.

BYLINE: Much of Europe is highly dependent on Russia for its energy needs. And trade relations have rapidly grown, with Germany now Russia's second most important trade partner after China. With the Cold War over, not only do Europeans no longer see Russia as a major threat, many are also beginning to question the purpose of NATO.

In this time of economic and political disarray in Europe, Techau, of the Carnegie Endowment, is most concerned about the possibility of Germany feeling strong enough to go it alone.

TECHAU: The Germans become less invested intellectually and militarily in NATO, or become less invested in Europe and come less invested in the integration process, that's the moment to start to worry. Because then, Germany might find itself in a position where it isolates itself as the loner in Europe.

BYLINE: An ominous prospect, not only for Europe but also for its trans-Atlantic partner.

Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.