- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2008

President Bush, but the leaders he will meet when his Western Europe trip begins Thursday may have more in common with his political rival.

Conservatives in recent years have assumed power across Europe - a near reversal from what President Bush faced when taking office in 2001.

The left-wing parties that thrived in the late 1990s have dissipated, and conservatives have sprung to leadership positions or have crushed opposition in recent power shifts here, in France and in Italy.

Mr. Obama had a taste of the ideological bent when preparing for his event here, as conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel blanched at suggestions that the historic Brandenburg Gate be the site for his German speech. As thousands of adoring Europeans, tourists and Americans living abroad plan to witness the speech at the city’s “Victory Column,” Mrs. Merkel may be changing her tune.

“I would say that he is well-equipped - physically, mentally and politically,” the chancellor told reporters at a news conference Wednesday in anticipation of her private meeting with the Democratic presidential hopeful.

Mr. Obama also plans to meet with opposition leaders here and in France and England later in the week.

Should Mr. Obama become president, he would be “the only left-wing leader remaining among the Group of Eight nations,” according to the Toronto Globe and Mail, which noted that three of the 27 countries in the European Union have liberal leanings.

Visitors to Berlin were buzzing all week about the visit. Korean tourists nodded and said, “Oh, yes, Obama,” when asked whether they knew of the man on the cover of so many German newspapers and magazines.

“He’s a better partner for us,” said Wolfgang Jordan, who sells schoolbooks in Hamburg, Germany. “George Bush has never tried to think from our position.”

“Obama? Es cambia,” said Emiliano, a tourist from Spain, giving the Spanish word for “change.”

“The president is the most powerful man in the world still. What America does affects everybody,” said Berlin psychologist Wolfgang Ohm. He said he is unimpressed with Mr. Bush and said that “Obama acts like I would expect a president to act.”

Aboard the Eastern Comfort boat in eastern Berlin, where long stretches of the Berlin Wall remain, Obama fans donned T-shirts and hats June 3, the night he won enough the delegates to clinch the Democratic nomination.

The speech was promoted Wednesday night at an English-language party on the boat. Expatriates and political fans from across Europe discussed their plans to attend, although some were not pleased that they likely would spend hours in the sun waiting for the event to begin.

“The whole world wants Obama to be president,” said a New Zealander here for the summer to study German.

A Gallup Poll released Wednesday showed that 64 percent of those surveyed in France, 62 percent in Germany and 60 percent in Britain would prefer Mr. Obama over his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, as the U.S. president.

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