US former President Barack Obama EPA-EFE/ALEXANDER BELTES


‘Europe has too many rules’ former president Obama tells awe-struck festival-goers


Former US president Barack Obama had some criticism for Europe during his weekend visit to Belgium.

Invited to open the technology festival FTI SuperNova in Antwerp on March 17, Obama spoke at some length to business owners and entrepreneurs.

After receiving a standing ovation upon entry, he said he saw himself as an entrepreneur: “If you want to become president in the US, it’s a bit like having a start-up.

“You need to convince people of your crazy ideas and you need to raise a lot of money. You need to take risks. I love it,” he said.

“You must have a vision and always stick to it. Combine that with passion, enthusiasm and belief in your project,” the former president added.

Still, he was quick to add that business and politics are not necessarily the same thing. “Selling coffee is quite different from leading the world economy.”

Regarding politics, Obama said: “People whose political beliefs I despise are on the rise.” He added that what he called fundamental Western values “are under threat along both sides of the Atlantic”.

He also noted that he felt: “There are too many governments [in] Europe. Too many regulations, too.

Still, he pointed out that “we have to remember that you can do business better in the Netherlands than in Afghanistan – and in Denmark than in Congo.

“Everything starts in the US and in Europe but we have to protect our values.”

Obama referred to European history, once riven by war and conflict but, in the past few decades, living in relative peace and prosperity.

“And yet,” he added, “people complain. You might have to read a bit of your own history, after all.”

Obama stressed that, despite the differences in interests and viewpoints between the US and Europe, both may still succeed through upholding what he said were the same moral principles.

He did point the finger at fellow former US president – and current presidential hopeful – Donald Trump. The Republican is, he said, sending a “bad signal” with his criticism of NATO.

“I’m very proud of how Europe is standing with Ukraine, despite the heavy energy burden,” the Democratic Obama said.

“But there are also certain aspects of NATO that need to be adjusted,” he added.

“Europe has not contributed to its defence as much as its wealth would allow.

“These are legitimate concerns but they are small if we stick to our Liberal democratic, market-oriented values.”

Obama also alluded to perceived swings from the centre in Europe – and apparently Trump: “Far-right populists are especially good storytellers. People whose political opinions I detest, like my successor, know how to tell a good story.

“But that story is terrible and will lead to our downfall,” he concluded.

Since he left office, Obama has been on the lucrative international lectures merry-go-round. It is rumoured that his Belgian speech came at a price of €650,000 and around 2,000 guests paid €650 each.

The elite event had stringent rules for the guests on how to behave (e.g. no recording) and how to dress (“stylish” cocktail attire). While many of the attendees arrived in high-end electric vehicles, Obama came by limo, flanked by police on motorbikes – and a helicopter overhead.

Everyone, including the many journalists in attendance, seemed in awe. He received a second round of thundering applause, washed down with some presumably high-end, gratis, champagne.