Spain's prime minister confounded by U.S. health-care system
Is Spain’s prime minister perturbed that the U.S.-European summit he was planning for Madrid in May had to be cancelled, due to President Obama’s refusal to attend?
“It’s not a problem,” Jose Luis Zapatero insisted in a meeting with The Washington Post editorial board today.
That, of course, is not what much of the Spanish or European press is saying. (“Obama turns his back on Europe,” was the headline in Madrid’s El Pais). But Zapatero, who arrived in Washington for a two-day visit shortly after the White House announced the decision, professed to be understanding of Obama’s need “to leave more space between his visits to Europe,” where he travelled six times last year.
“Obama has an open door in Europe,” Zapatero said. “There is a very positive attitude. We shouldn’t be thinking about what Obama can do for us, but what we can do for Obama.”
Zapatero himself clearly would like to help Obama reform U.S. health care. He professed to be baffled by the debate in Washington. In Spain, he noted, “our health-care system is public, universal and free,” including for undocumented immigrants. “What I don’t understand” about the U.S. system, he said, “is why the cost of health care is so high in relation to the GDP and you have such limited coverage.” He concluded: “There is a basic problem in the system.”
Zapatero is also confounded by U.S. politics. He acknowledged that “from the outside it may be difficult to understand” the European Union’s leadership, since “we have four presidents.” But, he added, “I don’t think that is any more difficult than here with the Senate filibustering. I know many Democrats are now suffering from this.”
The Spanish prime minister argued that “a renovation of the trans-Atlantic agenda” is necessary to prevent Europe and the United States from being displaced as global leaders by China, India and other emerging powers. “It’s really a matter of agenda, of having a systematic agenda with concrete issues,” he said.
The absence of such an agenda at previous U.S.-EU summits, including the last one in Washington, reportedly contributed to the White House’s decision to skip the one Zapatero was planning. Nor did the Spanish leader get presidential face time during his visit to Washington, other than at the annual prayer breakfast Thursday morning.
But Zapatero says he understands. “In this first year of Obama we had a very intensive relationship,” he said. Will the Spanish public, which has been adoring of the U.S. president, be as accepting? If not, Obama’s prolonged honeymoon with Western Europe may be about to end.
| February 4, 2010; 12:54 PM ET
Categories: Diehl | Tags: Jackson Diehl
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