Europe is giving Barack Obama a hero’s farewell on his final foreign tour, heaping praise on the outgoing U.S. president even as it looks hesitantly at, even anguishes over, his successor, President-elect Donald Trump.
Mainstream media coverage of Obama’s last visit to Europe — he is currently in Germany after visiting Greece earlier this week — has been ebullient. “Barack Obama: the European,” raved French paper Le Point. “He’s not of this world,” gushed Germany’s Die Zeit, while Hamburg-based Stern magazine simply called the exiting president “the charming boy.”
Dutch network NOS linked Obama with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying the two Western leaders were “united both on democracy and decency.” Italy’s state broadcaster RAI characterized Obama’s visit to Berlin as “passing the baton” of liberal Western values from the outgoing U.S. president to the German leader, who may face a Trump-like populist challenge in Germany’s national elections next summer.
But Britain’s The Guardian caught the somber mood of much of Europe’s media, which, while celebrating Obama, is looking warily at the man who will replace him in the White House.
Obama’s European visit is “in Trump’s shadow,” wrote the left-leaning daily, saying the trip was “full of foreboding and uncertainty” about the future U.S. direction under Trump.
Far-left Italian paper Il Manifesto went so far as to say Obama’s visit was “a futile trip,” calling the European tour “a holiday on the edge of an active volcano” given questions among European leaders about how their relationship with Trump will turn out. “Obama’s goodbye is a photograph of democracy in crisis,” agreed conservative Italian newspaper Secolo d’Italia. “His apologia of democracy, at the same time an apologia of his eight years as president, is delivered at a time when the principles of democracy and pluralism are under attack and often retreating worldwide, … when democracy is often reduced to only the ritual of elections, without respect for minorities, freedom of the press, of the division of powers.”
The Secolo editorial echoed concern across Europe that President-elect Trump “will be able to launch, by the powerful pulpit of the White House, a reactionary message and not simply conservative who will strengthen further and make it difficult to reverse the thrust … for xenophobic movements in Europe.”
Indeed, the praise heaped upon Obama as he exits the world stage is in sharp contrast to the warnings issued by European media in the wake of Trump’s surprise election win.
Britain’s BBC cited a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which ranked Trump’s winning the U.S. presidency as “one of the top 10 risks facing the world.” “The election of Donald Trump plunges the world into uncertainty,” argued France’s Le Figaro, while the more left-wing Liberation paper simply dubbed the 45th president “American Psycho.”
The European media has given unprecedented coverage to this year’s U.S. election campaign. With Trump’s every move still generating headlines on both sides of the Atlantic, that looks unlikely to change.