With President Obama’s final trip to Europe underway, the reality is setting in that this trip is greatly overshadowed by the results of last Tuesday’s US Presidential Election. The reality that Donald J. Trump will be the next President of the United States has dropped a heavy blanket of uncertainty across the continent. Try as they might, many Europeans do not know what to make of Donald Trump. His campaign promises and the lack of detailed policies have unnerved European leaders and citizens alike. On the surface, Trump appears to be a leader prepared to disconnect the US from Europe in many regards. His position on issues such as the Syrian Refugee Crisis and debt relief for nations like Greece appear to contrast sharply with those of many European leaders. His insistence that America’s NATO partners pay their fair share towards defense leads many on the other side of the Pond to wonder just how solidly a Trump administration will support the alliance in a time of crisis.
Personally, I do not think Europeans have much to worry about. Yet that is another post for another time.
As it stands right now, Obama’s farewell trip has transformed from a promulgation of his foreign policy legacy to a mission of reassurance. The first stop was Greece where the main talking point has been Greek debt relief and not Trump. Obama is expected to throw his support behind “meaningful debt relief” for Athens. In 2015 the EU flirted with the prospect of a possible ‘Grexit.’ At one point it seemed more probable than not that Greece would withdraw or be removed from the EU and abandon the Euro. Fortunately for Europe, Alexis Tsipras did not drive his nation off the edge of the cliff and into the unknown. He begrudgingly accepted the stringent and somewhat humiliating austerity terms offered up to set Greece on the road to recovery. Unfortunately, Greece’s economy is not yet sustainable and will not be without further debt relief.
Tsipras is hoping that Obama can help persuade Germany to move forward with additional debt relief for Greece. The Greek Prime Minister has made debt relief a priority, calling for a new agreement by the end of 2016. His popularity at home has plummeted from enforcing measures he once swore would never have his support. Additional debt relief might be his only realistic chance to avoid being swept out of office at some point in 2017, and ironically, Obama is the last card he has left to play.
When President Obama arrives in Berlin on Wednesday Greece will be one of the subjects on the list. However, with the prospect of Donald Trump looking as if it will dominate talks between Obama and Merkel, there is no guarantee that additional debt relief for Greece will be discussed in depth or acted upon in the future.