WASHINGTON – When leaders of the nation’s biggest economies gathered at the presidential retreat of Camp David last year, European elections had rattled the continent with a rejection of austerity measures.
President Obama was seeking re-election. The sense of urgency was palpable as Obama made an emphatic pitch for Europe’s powers to focus more on economic growth.
These days, as Obama prepares for another summit of the Group of Eight industrial nations next week, the furor has died down. Financial tensions in Europe have eased, high-debt nations have been given more time to work on their fiscal cuts, and even the language has changed from “austerity” to “growth-oriented structural reforms.”
“The context of that discussion has changed a lot over the past year,” said Caroline Atkinson, a senior White House international economics adviser.
Still, much of the eurozone remains mired in or near recession. Obama’s appeals have had mixed results in softening the demands on some of the most debt-ridden European nations to cut their spending.
While the U.S. still wants Europe to temper the debt trimming and increase global demand, Obama is not expected to be as insistent with other G-8 leaders this time as they meet at a luxury hotel and golf resort beside Lough Erne in Northern Ireland’s County Fermanagh.
Moreover, Obama arrives at the G-8 with Syria foremost on his mind. His decision to authorize lethal aid to Syrian rebels inevitably will be front and center during the summit, complicated by the attendance of Russian President Vladimir Putin, one of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s most powerful backers.
Obama is scheduled to arrive in Northern Ireland on Monday and immediately deliver a speech in Belfast largely focused on U.S. support for the peace process there. The global economy will be the topic of the first meeting with G-8 leaders at the summit site, followed by a one-on-one meeting with Putin.
After the summit ends, Obama will head to Berlin for meetings with German officials, including Chancellor Angela Merkel. The two will address reporters at a news conference afterward before Obama delivers a speech on the eastern side of the historic Brandenburg Gate. Obama also will be the guest of honor at a reception and dinner.
First lady Michelle Obama and daughters Malia and Sasha will accompany the president, and largely keep a separate schedule that includes a stop at Trinity College in Ireland to explore the president’s Irish ancestry.
On the economic front, the G-8 leaders were also to discuss trade and corporate tax avoidance, two topics that, while prominent, were not expected to result in major announcements.
Despite some improvement, the European economic picture remains bleak.
Thus, administration officials and former government economic advisers say Obama and his aides will still push European nations to moderate their austerity programs of spending cuts and tax increases in favor of more stimulus to boost growth and counter the high unemployment that still afflicts many countries in Europe, particularly Spain and Greece.