Analysts across Europe say it is unlikely the Republican victory in U.S. Congressional elections will lead to much more than cosmetic changes in transatlantic relations. Some say it could even give them a boost.
George W. Bush and his brother Jeb helped lead Republicans to victory in Tuesday's election
For the first two years of his presidency, many Europeans clung to the image of George W. Bush as a gun-slinging hawk from Texas incapable of addressing the Old Country by any other moniker than "Yurp."
But Tuesday's elections -- which put Bush's Republicans in control of both chambers of the U.S. Congress -- are likely to challenge those stereotypes. "He's not the trigger-happy cowboy people here like to portray him as," says Christian Hacke, a professor of political science at the University of Bonn.
Instead, he's become a strong political leader in the U.S. and abroad -- one that Europe will have to contend with whether it wants to or not.
"Europeans who are having trouble with him may continue to, but this is not an accidental presidency anymore," says Jackson Janes, executive director of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies. "Europeans must now engage with the U.S. and stop sitting around saying, 'What an idiot.' They're going to have to learn how to play the piano with Bush as Tony Blair has done."
Though Janes and other analysts say it is too soon to tell whether the shift in the U.S. government will lead to major changes in the transatlantic relationship, many say they will likely only be cosmetic.
Because of the party's razor-thin victory, Janes points out, Bush won't be given "carte blanche to ride roughshod over everything." Nor is the Republican victory likely to have any impact on Bush's stance against Iraq. Both the Democrats and Republicans in Congress voted this autumn to enable Bush to take military action against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
"It probably won't make things easier"
Still, the shift in power could change the tenor of the debate over Iraq, which has for months been the source of simmering tensions between Brussels, Washington and virtually every European capital.
"The success of the Republicans does give a push to the conservatives inside the Bush administration, and it could strengthen those people who want to go after Iraq no matter what," says Professor Thomas Risse, director of the Center for Transatlantic Foreign and Security Policy at Berlin's Free University. "They will probably calculate that the little resistance left inside Congress has been greatly diminished. If you look at that in the context of German-American relations, it probably won't make things much easier."
On the other hand, it could also bring Europe together in its stance on a war against Iraq if Bush attempts to go it alone. "If the election pushes Bush further to the right and toward unilateral action, you will see a European consensus that we don't want to go to war against Iraq," Risse says.
The new Congress could also push Washington farther away from Europe in other areas -- especially human rights and environmental policies, Risse says. Many political leaders in Europe are still angered over Bush's decision to withdraw U.S. support for the nascent International Criminal Court and his staunch refusal to back the Kyoto Protocol.
But John Kornblum foresees few changes at all.
"The president will now be able to get programs through Congress more easily and there will be less debate about trade, the environment and other issues," the Berlin-based former U.S. Ambassador to Germany says.
Will the Republicans ease trade disputes?
European think-tanks are also looking at the Republican victory optimistically.
"The initial response in Brussels was: Will they go straight into war against Iraq?" says Heather Grabbe, research director at the London-based Center for European Reform. "But when you think about it carefully, it's less likely because Bush won't have to prove himself as much. The new balance of power will make it easier for him to talk about disarmament rather than regime change."
The Democrats will now likely become a more adversarial opponent, pushing a strong domestic policy agenda that will make it more difficult for Congress or the Bush administration to push too far with its foreign policy agenda, Grabbe says.
She also sees a silver lining in the decision that could help ease transatlantic relations. Though Iraq is the issue that most concerns Europeans at the moment, global trade follows closely behind it.
"Although Bush himself is not a great free trade person, Congressional Republicans are more in favor of it. The party's not bound to organized labor interests, and some Republicans in Congress could help push Bush toward implementing greater liberalization of U.S. markets," Grabbe says.