Europe co-ordinates Biden congratulations and formulates to-do list

Trump’s lack of credibility among EU leaders clear in orchestrated response

European Commission president Ursula Von Der Leyen: The result of the US election was broadly greeted with relief in Europe.  Photograph:   Olivier Hoslet/pool/AFP via Getty Images

European Commission president Ursula Von Der Leyen: The result of the US election was broadly greeted with relief in Europe. Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/pool/AFP via Getty Images

 

Usually, European leaders wait for the losing side in any United States presidential election to deliver their concession speech before publicly congratulating a winner. Not this time.

EU leaders game-planned for different election scenarios in co-ordination with each other ahead of the vote. When news organisations called the race for Democratic candidate Joe Biden on Saturday but the incumbent, Donald Trump, did not concede, they were ready.

“7pm was the hour that was agreed upon to congratulate the president-elect and the vice-president-elect following the result in Pennsylvania, while showing respect for the electoral process,” an EU official said.

It shows how little credibility Trump has with European leaders. It was also a way for them to provide each other with diplomatic cover: for no one to seem over-hasty or too circumspect in accepting the Biden victory. A flurry of tweets duly appeared on the hour from the leaders of Austria, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Poland and more.

Not everyone waited for the agreed moment. Germany’s vice-chancellor Olaf Scholz and the Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis fired theirs off early – a sure way to get more attention. But Taoiseach Micheál Martin stood out, hitting send a full one hour and 21 minutes ahead of the agreed time: a reflection of just how close a friend Dublin hopes to be to the new administration, as well as simple delight at the outcome. 

The result of the election was broadly greeted with relief in Europe. Multilateral co-operation is the EU’s native language, and there is hardly a policy area that Trump’s antipathy to the practice has left untouched, from his trade warring, to his withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, to his pursuit of exclusive access to a Covid-19 vaccine for the US alone.

Several European capitals have also been lumbered with awkward Trump appointments such as Pete Hoekstra, the US ambassador to the Netherlands who topped a string of controversies by hosting an event for a far-right Dutch opposition party in the US embassy. Trump’s success was promoted by supporters as part of a “populist wave” that would sweep Europe, and many politicians are not sorry to see it slump.

Among the congratulations from the continent, one stood out. Britain’s foreign secretary Dominic Raab’s message came with strange qualifications. He noted that “it was a close contest”, “some of the processes are still playing out” and that Trump “fought hard”.

This reflects how Britain’s Brexiteer camp has been isolated by the loss of an ally in the White House, and by who will replace him: an Irish-identifying multilateralist who warned ahead of the election that the peace process in Northern Ireland could not become a “casualty of Brexit”.

But talks with Britain are not the only area in which European leaders are petitioning for policy swings in their favour. The hopes for the future expressed alongside the congratulations read almost like a to-do list for the president elect. 

Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg wrote that the US was needed for the “collective strength to deal with the many challenges we face, including a more assertive Russia, international terrorism, cyber and missile threats, and a shift in the global balance of power with the rise of China”.

The German minister for foreign affairs, Heiko Maas, announced that Berlin would “make specific proposals” including “dealing with actors like China”, “climate protection” and “the global fight against the Corona pandemic”.

The big question is: with a divided country, a raging pandemic, an economic crisis, and possibly no majority in the Senate, can Biden live up to all of Europe’s hopes?

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