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Obama and the Bolshevik Revolution

By Marc Champion
November 07, 2012 4:02 PM EST
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It's a sign of how differently Europe sees this U.S. election from the Barack-o-mania of four years ago that at a session of the European Parliament in Brussels today, Obama's victory got just one mention.

It came from Gabriele Zimmer, a German legislator with Germany's ex-communist Die Linke party, who without irony ranked Barack Obama's election right alongside the Nov. 7, 1917 Russian Bolshevik revolution.

Europe's parliament is a great reminder that the U.S. political system isn't alone in being spectacularly strange -- and for that matter expensive.

The legislators had convened for a special session to hear from Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, on her way to meet with Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron in London. They hadn't heard directly from the woman now widely seen as Europe's boss since 2007.

Merkel delivered her stock lecture on how other EU countries must take the medicine of reduced benefits and increased retirement ages that Germany swallowed a decade ago. Then they should wait five years for the lower labor costs that result to produce benefits, as Germany did, she said. In the meantime, she called for a much-tighter union built around the euro, with powers to intervene in the budgets of states that fail to meet fiscal targets.

The heads of the two main center-right and center-left factions in parliament, a Frenchman and an Austrian, went through the motions of debating austerity. But they were a lot more interested in telling her what she should say to Cameron, who has angered pretty much everyone in Brussels by refusing to consider the 5 percent increase they want to see in the EU's 2014-2020 budget, even as national governments slash their own spending.

Belgium's Guy Verhofstadt, the head of the liberal faction and an ardent EU federalist, begged her to take Cameron some numbers he rolled out. These demonstrated how countries, such as the U.S. and Japan, that have real governments and real budgets behind their currencies, but more debt than the euro area average, are paying much lower interest rates to borrow. And yet, said Verhofstadt, Cameron wanted to veto an increase that would bring the EU budget to a lousy 1.05 percent of the bloc's combined GDP?

That argument might be more compelling if it weren't coming from an institution that has two locations -- one in Brussels and one in the French city of Strasbourg -- and shuttles between them every month at huge expense for no reason other than entrenched pork barrel politics.

Cameron got no better treatment from the Britons in Brussels. Nigel Farage, who heads the quixotic faction of parties in the European Parliament who don't like Europe, urged Merkel to demand from Cameron an "amicable divorce" from the EU. The U.K. prime minister would listen to her, said Farage, because he was "weak."

Dinner at Downing Street tonight looks like it will be fun, too.

(Marc Champion is a member of Bloomberg View's editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)

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