With Republican White House hopefuls telling voters they will prevent America from sinking into a European-type malaise, Guido Westerwelle sought to dispel the notion of a region collapsing on the back of social welfare.
“When I look at the American debate over the past weeks I see mostly a caricature of Europe, the image of a continent mired in gloom and self-absorption,” he told an audience at Brookings Institution.
“I beg to differ. First point: We actually overcame socialism in Europe 20 years ago,” he said, offering that the United States helped that achievement.
Westerwelle told reporters that he saw the “necessity to speak up” in the face of “stereotypes” of Europe coming out in the hard-fought battle over which Republican will square off against President Barack Obama in November’s election.
In a time-honoured tradition for the American right, Europe-bashing has been rife in the Republican nomination contest.
Candidates have repeatedly referred to Obama following the “socialist” path of Europe, while pointing to the current eurozone crisis as the result.
In one debate, the leader in the race, Mitt Romney, called Obama “a big-spending liberal” who “takes his political inspiration from Europe and from the socialist democrats in Europe.
“Guess what? Europe isn’t working in Europe. It’s not going to work here,” he said.
Romney has also accused Obama of trying to create a “European-style entitlement society,” saying the current administration reflects “the worst of what Europe has become.”
Westerwelle’s protests aside, “socialist” is a powerful slur in US politics. A Pew Research poll in December found 60 percent of people saw the word negatively, compared to 39 percent for “liberal” and 30 percent for “conservative.”
Rick Santorum, another Romney challenger, has also warned of taking the European socialist path, but he has acknowledged some positives across the Atlantic.
“I just read a recent study that actually income mobility from the bottom two quintiles up into the middle income is actually greater… in Europe than it is in America today. We need to change that,” he said in one debate.