US election: European politicians pin hopes on Biden victory

Some prematurely congratulate Democrat, while others optimistic on climate accord

European leaders have pinned their hopes on a reset in relations following the United States presidential election, with some politicians rushing to congratulate Democratic candidate Joe Biden before the race had been called.

Poland's Radoslaw Sikorski, a former foreign minister who serves in the European Parliament, wrote "congratulations, Mr President" to Mr Biden on social media on Friday afternoon before either candidate had surpassed the 270 electoral votes needed to secure victory.

He was not alone. Two German Green MEPs also expressed their congratulations, while Belgium's climate minister Zakia Khattabi wrote "welcome back America!" and anticipated the country's attendance at the United Nations Climate Change Conference next year, in apparent hope that the US would now rejoin the Paris Agreement that it withdrew from under Donald Trump. Mr Biden pledged to rejoin the accord during his campaign.

The World Trade Organisation postponed a planned meeting at which members were to try to appoint a new director general. Washington had blocked the favoured candidate, Nigeria's Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and a Biden presidency is seen as much more likely to support her appointment.

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Meanwhile, the foreign ministers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania issued a joint statement that spoke of their "strong commitment" to a "special and historical partnership" with the United States.

Concerns

The statement did not mention a US candidate by name. But Baltic states have been at the centre of concerns about Mr Trump's commitment to Nato and collective defence since a comment in 2016 in which he said that his country would not necessarily defend the Baltic states if they were invaded by Russia.

“The United States of America is and will remain for us the closest ally. We value highly the United States’ contribution to European defence,” the Baltic ministers said in the joint statement. “We remain convinced that strong transatlantic partnership and Nato remain indispensable for European security and defence.”

There was also speculation that a Biden victory could leave Britain more isolated as post-Brexit negotiations with the EU near their last chance to find a deal. Where Mr Trump has been an open supporter of Brexit and has described the EU as "a foe", Mr Biden is seen as much more friendly towards the bloc, and a strong opponent of any negative impact the UK's withdrawal could have on the island of Ireland.

Protective

"A Biden administration would certainly be forcefully protective of the Good Friday agreement [Belfast Agreement] and more insistent on a UK-EU compromise on Brexit than the Johnson government would like," wrote Jeremy Shapiro, research director at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Germany's minister for foreign affairs Heiko Maas told journalists that it would be "very, very important" if the US could rejoin the Paris Agreement, and expressed hope that after the election "the West plays as a team again".

He also criticised calls by Mr Trump to stop counting votes as something that “doesn’t comply with the democratic culture” of the US.

“Anyone who continues to pour oil on the fire in a situation like this is acting irresponsibly,” he said. “Now is the time to keep a cool head until an independently determined result is available.”

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O'Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times