In Europe, US shutdown gets airtime

Europeans can't understand the fuss over broadening healthcare coverage

While the government shutdown may seem like a domestic problem, the stalemate between the Republican House and President Barack Obama is being watched across Europe.

All major European press have been covering the failure of congress and the US president to come to an agreement daily. It was the lead story on Austria’s evening news Thursday because, as one economist, Christoph Varga told Zeit im Bild, “The American crises will come to us.”

This is because if the US debt ceiling isn’t raised in time, a missed payment on a US Treasury Bill could as Le Monde wrote, “plunge the planet into a new economic maelstrom.”

Western European media variously describe the spat between the two branches of the US government as “a game of chicken,” “playing sissy,” “kindergarten fight in the sandbox,” and “a kidnapping of democracy,” all because the GOP is trying to reverse course on the Affordable Care Act, which took effect October 1. None of the European outlets, however, appear to be able to grasp why the issue of expanding healthcare coverage should hold the world hostage.

“Hardly anywhere else would Obama’s healthcare reform be described as a contrast between a ‘leftist’ president and a ‘rightist’ opposition,” writes the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in an attempt to explain the shutdown to Germans, who enjoy national healthcare.

El Pais’ correspondent tried to explain the impasse as a failure by the Republican Party to play by the rules of democracy:

Since it cannot control the executive and legislative branch, [the Tea Party] is dedicated to preventing the president from governing and congress from legislating. This is an abduction of democracy, the largest and most sneaky changes to the rules of the game that can be done, whose destructive action could extend even beyond the institutional damage that can do to the US. compared the congressional/presidential stalemate with the events leading up to Russia’s debt default in 1998, when the country was deeply in debt from a failed military intervention, citizens were awash in personal debt, and the government was ineffective.

Deja vu: Yeltsin on the eve of the 1998 default that nothing like this would ever happen again: A day in which Russia couldn’t pay its debts. Today the situation is mirrored: Liberal economists like Alexei Kudrin swore that nothing is safer than US Treasury bills. Yet 10 days after his pronouncement, it is likely the US will refuse to pay its debt.
Even the European tabloids have gotten into the shutdown act, relaying stories of disappointed European tourists unable to visit a national park or see long-anticipated monuments.

“The US holiday has been ruined for millions of tourists,” reads the lead paragraph of Oesterreich, Austria’s largest-circulation paper. “On the pier near New York’s Statue of Liberty, disappointed tourists were offered a free ferry ride around the island rather than a visit to the iconic Lady Liberty. Many rejected the offer with disgust.”

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Alison Langley has more than 25 years experience in journalism as a reporter and editor. Her stories have appeared in a variety of publications, including The New York Times, The Guardian, The FT and The Independent. She currently lectures in journalism at Fachhochschule Wien and Webster University Vienna. Tags: