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The United State of Europe

While the scenes could not be compared to what we're seeing on TV from Washington, D.C., the inauguration of President Barack Obama has been enthusiastically feted in the European capital as well. 

Brussels heartily welcomed the man who'd been overwhelmingly favored over John McCain in every opinion poll, with the recurring theme that this victory is theirs, too, that this change in the U.S. will help them change for the better as well.  

"I personally believe that the election of President Obama was a defining turning point for America," said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. "It may also be an important turning point for the rest of the world."  

President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pottering, sounded as if he were congratulating the EU on the election.  "With the arrival of this new U.S. Administration, we can re-launch transatlantic relations and put them on a new and dynamic footing," Pottering said in a statement.  "We have a unique chance to open a new chapter and engage in new thinking."

But attached to these leaders' warm wishes are wish lists for the incoming administration, topped by calls for more co-operation on climate change, the Middle East and the global economic crisis, to name just a few big concerns.  "If the European Union and the United States can work successfully together, we can be a major force for prosperity, peace and civilised values in the world," Pottering pledged.

Hosting a rather restrained but clearly engaged crowd at the U.S. embassy to the European Union, Charge D'Affaires Christopher Murray said he'd never seen such intense interest abroad in a U.S. election, from his diplomatic counterparts as well as from the public.  While career foreign-service officers take care not to show partisanship, Murray did validate the optimistic European views of the coming changes in transatlantic relations.   "There's a new era in communications that's going to be very very positive on all sides," he said.

In a nearby hotel, the new president got a rowdier response at a party thrown by Democrats Abroad Belgium, attended by more than 400 people — most of them non-Americans, according to the organization's chairwoman, Faustina Mercado-Sandoval.  She marvelled that, while there were occasional bouts of clapping — and a roar of approval when President George W. Bush was shown flying away — throughout most of the Obama speech, "you could've heard a pin drop" because people were listening so intently."

But while Europeans' affinity for Obama may give them more patience than they'd otherwise have, his popularity also makes them eager to get moving on the agenda that they believe the new president shares with them. Barroso invoked a ticking clock.  "Today, the eyes of the world are on President Obama," he acknowledged. "But tomorrow — indeed, immediately — it is the world that must have his attention and our attention."

While President Obama is still dancing to his inauguration parade, with a time difference of six hours to Brussels, it already IS "tomorrow" in Europe.

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