European leaders call for all US election votes to be counted

Politicians say result shows need for self-reliance as right-wing populists welcome Trump performance

European leaders urged for all votes to be counted amid a nail-biting presidential election count in the United States in which Republican incumbent Donald Trump appeared locked in a closer than expected tussle with the Democrat Joe Biden.

Politicians from across the continent urged respect for the democratic process after Mr Trump prematurely declared victory and called for officials to stop counting votes, claiming without evidence that there had been election interference following weeks of statements in which he has undermined trust in postal voting.

While Mr Trump has been cool and sometimes hostile towards the EU and an Ipsos poll showed Europeans would choose Mr Biden over Mr Trump by a landslide, European leaders responded cautiously to the results, aware that the transatlantic relationship will remain vital whoever wins.

"The USA will be an important partner for us regardless of how the election goes," German finance finance minister Olaf Scholz told reporters as he began a meeting with his EU counterparts. "What is important for us is that everything is counted out and that we have a clear result in the end that comes out of democratic elections in democratic procedures."

But Saskia Esken, the leader of the Social Democratic Party of which Mr Scholz is a member, went further and criticised calls by Trump that the counting of votes should be stopped.

“A candidate, even if he is the incumbent president, who calls for postal votes not to be counted, is acting anti-democratically,” Ms Esken said in a statement. “It is more true than ever that we have to defend our democratic achievements against populist and nationalist agitation.”

German defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer described the “battle for the legitimacy of the result” as “a very explosive situation”.

"The experts rightly say it could lead to a constitutional crisis in the United States. And that is something that must certainly be of great concern to us overall," said Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer, who leads the Christian Democratic Union party of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Spain's Iratxe Garcia Perez, the leader of the socialist group in the European Parliament, tweeted that "Trump's behaviour undermines US democracy" and expressed a wish that Mr Biden "will bring new hope both to US citizens and to the whole world."

Trump supporters among Europe’s right however were encouraged by the result however, with the right-wing populist prime minister of Slovenia Janez Janša rushing to congratulate the incumbent on Twitter.

“It’s pretty clear that American people have elected” Trump, Mr Janša wrote, accusing the ‘mainstream media’ of “delays and facts denying”.

The leader of France's far-right National Rally party Marine Le Pen told French television that "the reelection of Trump is better for France".

“A leader who pleads for the return of the nation, of patriotism, of borders, and of sovereignty, in my opinion is headed in the same direction as history,” Ms Le Pen said.

Either way, the close result has deepened feelings in Europe that the continent can no longer rely on the United States to bolster its power and interests, prompting debates about increasing EU defence cooperation and economic self-reliance.

French finance minister Bruno Le Maire told a radio interview that "the United States has not been a friendly partner to European states for several years now" and whatever the result this would not change.

“Europe needs to grow up, and grow up fast,” the Dutch liberal member of the European Parliament Sophie in ‘t Veld tweeted as votes were counted.

"Looking at the chaos across the Atlantic, I'm more certain than ever that Europeans are stronger together in an uncertain world," wrote Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt. "Whatever the outcome, the EU needs to take its destiny into its own hands."

In the UK, prime minister Boris Johnson side-stepped calls to comment on Donald Trump’s call to stop the counting of votes, saying: “We don’t comment as the UK government on the democratic processes of our friends and allies.”

He had been asked by the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, at prime minister’s questions in the Commons whether he agreed that “it’s not for the candidate to say which votes do or don’t count or when to stop counting” in the US election.

– Additional reporting: Guardian

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O'Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times