- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2012

Few events make President Obama look less powerful lately than a gathering of European leaders.

Europe’s economic crisis comes to North America’s shores Monday and Tuesday in the form of the Group of 20 summit, a gathering of heads of state and finance ministers from the eurozone countries and other industrialized nations that will take place in Los Cabos, Mexico. Mr. Obama will attend, but he’ll likely take a back seat to those economic “headwinds” from Europe that he’s been fretting over lately.

At the G-20 meeting last November in France, Mr. Obama told European leaders they had the “capacity” to resolve their own financial problems. In May, he delivered a similar message to European officials at Camp David, urging them to focus on economic stimulus rather than immediate deficit reduction.

In between, Mr. Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner have been offering advice continually to European leaders on the phone and in meetings, seeking to keep the problems from spreading.

But Europe’s fiscal crisis has only deepened, with Spain requesting a bank bailout of more than $100 billion and Greece scheduled to hold elections Sunday that could determine whether it stays in the 17-nation common-currency eurozone.

Mr. Obama has few tools at his disposal to influence the emergency overseas that he blames in part for the weak U.S. economy, which is imperiling his re-election bid.

“He’s got fairly little to offer,” said Colin Bradford, a scholar on G-20 summits at the Brookings Institution. “He doesn’t really have a direct card to play in the financial sense.”

Mr. Bradford said the president does have a role to play as someone who is “facile in the room” and can act as a consensus builder.

Mr. Geithner said other European nations should move closer to Germany, which is seeking structural reforms to save the monetary union.

“It’s unfair to look at Germany as the sole source of the problem now,” Mr. Geithner said Wednesday at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. “Germany is saying make monetary union work,” he said, calling the Germans’ position “very reasonable.”

But Germany is advocating fiscal discipline, while France’s new Socialist president, Francois Hollande, is pushing for growth measures and a retreat from austerity. After the G-20 meeting in Mexico, EU leaders will gather for their next summit June 28 and 29 in Brussels.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday warned that “Germany’s powers are not unlimited” and said those calling for her country to “pour billions” into the eurozone to calm markets must focus first on fiscal discipline.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault urged Mrs. Merkel to avoid “simplistic talk.”

“We need to deal with things seriously and courageously,” Mr. Ayrault said, warning that the “future of the eurozone is in danger.”

Another drama to play out at the G-20 summit will be Mr. Obama’s one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who snubbed Mr. Obama by skipping the conference at Camp David last month. Since then, tensions between the two nations have grown worse, especially with accusations by the U.S. this week that Russia is selling military helicopters to Syria for possible use in slaughtering pro-democracy demonstrators opposed to the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

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