Obama is scheduled to depart Washington late Wednesday for a two-day trip to Cannes, France, where the heads of the world’s 20 largest economies will gather for the Group of 20 summit. Organizers said the meetings will focus on how to contain Europe’s debt crisis while also trying to forge consensus on a path to stimulating worldwide economic growth, even as many countries, including the United States, wrestle with painful budget cuts.
The trip, the first for Obama outside the United States since he attended a smaller summit in France in the spring, could provide a crucial test of whether his political problems at home have compromised his influence abroad.
In the five months since the last global summit, Obama has focused on the domestic economy, fighting with Congress over ways to reduce the deficit and crisscrossing the nation to promote his $447 billion American Jobs Act, which remains stalled on Capitol Hill.
At a series of bilateral meetings in France, the president is expected to lay out his growth proposals: a mix of immediate spending to create jobs and longer-term fiscal discipline to reduce U.S. deficits.
But Obama faces a tough challenge after pointedly criticizing Europe’s handling of its debt crisis. During a town-hall-style event in Mountain View, Calif., last month, Obama said the Europeans were “scaring the world.”
European leaders struck back, telling administration officials to butt out and focus on their own fiscal problems. The Austrian and German finance ministers chided U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner in September for intervening in Europe’s affairs, with Germany’s Wolfgang Schauble dismissing as “stupid” a bailout idea advanced by Geithner. White House officials counter that the bailout plan adopted last week by European nations to help cash-strapped countries such as Italy and Spain borrow at least a trillion dollars is similar to an idea that Geithner proposed.
“The president said Europe was scaring the world; Europe thinks the U.S. is scaring the world,” said CSIS’s Conley, who was deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs from 2001 to 2005. “We’re both finger-pointing at one another. I do not think the president has lost legitimacy, but it’s just very hard for us to tell other countries what to do.”
On his national jobs tour, Obama has consistently cited Europe’s economic malaise, along with the Japanese earthquake and the uprisings in the Middle East, as factors that have slowed the U.S. economic recovery. The president has called on Europe to take bold action to resolve its debt crisis.