Accessibility links

Breaking News

Europe Tries to Adapt to Bush Victory, Hopes for Better Ties

European analysts and governments are reacting to President Bush's victory in Tuesday's U.S. presidential election. And many are expressing the hope that he will make gestures to improve trans-Atlantic relations, which were damaged by Mr. Bush's decision to invade Iraq in spite of widespread opposition in Europe.

It was an election that riveted Europe. Public opinion surveys showed that three out of four Europeans were against Mr. Bush and wanted to see him go down to defeat. Many Europeans stayed up all night to follow live election coverage on television. Patrice de Beer, the editor of the French newspaper Le Monde, says interest was high because most Europeans feel the outcome of the contest will affect their lives over the next four years.

"The way the war on terrorism or the war in Iraq is conducted will affect us," said Patrice de Beer. "The way the American administration sees the rest of the world, the way they engage with the rest of the world, whether they are interested in having a dialogue or whether they want to pursue their unilateralist policy is fundamentally important for us. And the problem is that we have the feeling that we have no say in an election which is, in a way, also our election."

Frederick Kempe, the American editor of the Wall Street Journal European edition, says he has never seen Europeans pay so much attention to a U.S. election.

"Part of the reason for that is that this is probably the first election in 30 years in the United States that's been decided in foreign policy terms, and, secondarily, we're moving into a new era beyond the Cold War, and Europeans have once again discovered that American leadership makes a difference," said Frederick Kempe. "

The one major European country where polls showed that a popular majority favored Mr. Bush's re-election is Poland. The country's president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, hailed Mr. Bush as a decisive leader and said he looks forward to continuing cooperation with the U.S. president on such issues as the fight against terrorism.

In countries that opposed the Iraq war, like France and Germany, Democratic candidate John Kerry was much more popular than Mr. Bush because he promised to re-build ties across the Atlantic that Europeans believe have been damaged by Mr. Bush. But before the final results were known, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said Paris would work with Mr. Bush if he won another term. Christine Ockrent, one of France's leading television commentators, says many officials in Paris have been worried that Mr. Kerry would ask France to support the peace-building effort in Iraq, something it is reluctant to do.

"I personally believe that there is a sigh of relief at the Elysee [Presidential Palace] and in the higher ranks of the French government because it would have been much more embarrassing for the French to turn down a very nice, pleasant, warm John Kerry and, in a way, having George W. Bush again, you know, it's business as usual," said Christine Ockrent.

In Germany, Interior Minister Otto Schilly said that, despite past differences with Washington, it is in the interests of both countries that the situation in Iraq be stabilized. And Berlin's top official for relations with Washington, Karsten Voigt, says he hopes a second Bush administration will reach out to the Europeans. Other leaders, like Sweden's Prime Minister Goran Persson, say they don't expect anything to change. He says trans-Atlantic political sniping will continue. Barry Buzan, a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, agrees with Mr. Perssson.

"There's a real possibility that things won't change, and, if the same old faces and the same old rhetoric turn up, then it's going to be a very hard four years," said Barry Buzan. But Wall Street Journal editor Frederick Kempe says he believes that a second Bush administration will make conciliatory gestures toward the Europeans.

"You'll see much more reaching out to allies, and you'll see much more desire to be multilateral, not because one believes in the United Nations or in the European Union for that matter but really because America has come face-to-face with its own limitations," he said. "The question is will there be a Europe to reach out to since the anti-Bush feeling is so strong in Europe and leaders like [French President Jacques] Chirac and [German Chancellor Gerhard] Schroeder have made their point of view over time relatively well-known."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been President Bush's staunchest ally in the war on terrorism and in Iraq. His former press secretary, Alistair Campbell, says Mr. Blair is now in a position to ask Mr. Bush to tackle what Mr. Blair sees as one of the main causes of terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.

"I feel that it's perfectly possible that George Bush, emboldened if you like, strengthened by the fact that he doesn't have to worry about his personal re-election in four years' time, might actually begin to look a bit further afield, start to heal a bit at home, start to look further abroad," said Alistair Campbell. "And Tony is in a very, very strong position now, I think, to go and say 'look, George, you know I've given you some pretty strong support in Iraq and the war on terrorism and the rest of it, but I have been banging on for some time about the Middle East peace process and its absolute centrality to these arguments, and now that you've got your fresh mandate, we've got to go and do something."

Still, many experts predict that the trans-Atlantic divide will remain, no matter who is in the White House. One reason, writes Eberhard Sandschneider of Germany's Council on Foreign Relations, is that both sides are adjusting to a post-Cold War world in which there is less of a mutual security imperative to stick together at all costs. While trade disputes and other differences have always existed, he adds, there are fewer constraints today to prevent them from dominating trans-Atlantic relations.