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Europe

European Press Review: Hopes, Fears and Four More Years

Europe woke up to the confirmation of a second term for the George W. Bush presidency on Thursday. The European press had conflicting views on the election result and what four more years would mean.

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European newspapers assessed the implications of the US election

There were no surprises as to what the main topic in the European press on Thursday was. The dominant theme of George W. Bush's victory in the US presidential election was spread across the continent's early editions with commentators paying close attention to the likely implications of his second term for their own countries and the broader transatlantic relationship.

To some extent, Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung offered some doom-mongering for those intent on wallowing in the aftermath of the election result by predicting that the re-elected president would not change his policies. "This America", it suggested, "will continue its global 'war on terror' and unwaveringly strike with military force whenever and wherever it deems necessary." The paper offered little hope for the soothing of relations between the United States and Europe. The Europeans will remain in Bush's eyes "at best useful back-up troops, at worst awkward troublemakers," it added.

Another German newspaper, Der Tagesspiegel, from Berlin, also saw US-European ties as an important issue that will need dealing with in Bush's second term but conceded that it would have to be more than one-way traffic for the wounds to heal. The paper warned that both sides of the Atlantic will need to change in the next four years. "Bush will have to do a lot to make sure that at least Europe's leading politicians regain trust in the only superpower," it wrote. "But Europe", it added, "should also reconsider its ambitions to act as a political counterweight to the US."

While both the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Der Tagesspiegel offered typically downbeat editorials, the leftist Tageszeitung unexpectedly saw a reason to welcome Bush's victory. The paper argued that more multilateral policies under John Kerry would have put pressure on Germany to cooperate. "But if George Bush were to embark on new military adventures," it says, "there would be no reason for (German Chancellor) Schröder to ride alongside."

In France, most papers offered editorials more than slightly tinged with sad resignation. Liberation wrote that the outside world would just have to come to terms with Bush's re-election and learn to live with the outcome of the election. President Bush's victory, it wrote, is "a revolution with much more lasting consequences than the hangover being suffered by his critics around the world, France included." "A new reactionary majority has consolidated its hold on American democracy," the paper concluded. "The rest of the world may deplore it, but it will have to adapt to this reality."

Le Monde lamented that most Europeans misjudged the nature of the election. "The first peculiarity, which Europeans always found hard to understand," the paper wrote, "is that the campaign was fought in an America at war." More specifically, the paper believed, "it is all about President Bush's 'world war on terror', a concept he has managed to impose as a new mindset".

"Another peculiarity that follows logically", the paper added, "is that for the first time in decades the campaign was dominated by foreign-policy issues."

In Russia, the main newspapers offered a unique spin on celebrating the result of the US election. The pro-communist Sovetskaya Rossiya wrote enthusiastically that the result of the US election was exactly what Russia needed. "Bearing in mind that Bush's policies are prompting increasingly powerful rejection in the entire world, mankind will inevitably unite against the common evil -- American imperialism," it wrote. "Doesn't Bush's victory signify the approach of America's decline?" it asked.

The editorial comment in Izvestiya hinted at major concerns arising from four more years of a republican administration. The article wrote that a "harsher" US approach to Russia would have emerged irrespective of the result -- but that the paper still saw a silver lining. "The Republicans are preferable for the Kremlin -- under them the harsher approach will be less noticeable."

Nezavisimaya Gazeta offered more obvious dissent by saying that Bush's victory was unlikely to be a welcome present for Russia. "Considering our psychological dependence on the US -- though we try not to admit to it -- the victorious feeling on the part of the militant Republicanism which rules America will inevitably prompt new anti-liberal trends here," the newspaper warned.

Some papers in new EU countries feared that the main beneficiary may be the West's principal adversary. Czech business daily Hospodarske Noviny was concerned that Bush was unlikely to become "more pragmatic" or "mindful of the extent to which his country is divided." Someone who will cheer his triumph, the paper wrote, is "a skinny, bearded man hiding somewhere on the Afghan-Pakistani border". Osama Bin Laden, it argued, "needs not only his faith in God Almighty but also a clearly defined enemy."

Hungary's Nepszabadsag expressed similar thoughts. It warned of "arguments in Brussels" and "confrontations at the United Nations" in Bush's second term, and concluded: "Osama Bin Laden can lean back in his armchair with a smirk on his face."

Back in Western Europe, and in Spain in particular, views were conflicting. The Spanish seemed to be looking forward to stronger European efforts to establish a balance of power on issues with the United States.

El Pais called on Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to lead a European response to the election result and hinted at an alignment with Bush's main opponents on the continent. "A step in the right direction", it wrote, "would be to organize Spain's position vis-à-vis Washington within the European context, and especially with France and Germany."

However, the ABC daily wrote that it was up to the Europeans to reconsider their approach. It warned that Washington "would appreciate from some of them a greater sense of responsibility. Let the lesson of faith in democracy we have received from the American people be an incentive and an opportunity for ensuring that the cause of freedom is victorious again," the paper wrote.

In Britain, where Prime Minister Tony Blair continues to offer unflinching support to the US in Iraq, despite massive public unease and discomfort in his own Labor Party, the press was equally divided.

The liberal Guardian was obviously unhappy with the result but recognized that the American people had spoken, endorsed the president's policies and that it was now time to resolve important issues. "Bush has a mandate of the kind he did not have before," the paper wrote. "We may not like it -- in fact, to tell the truth, we don't like it one bit -- but if it isn't a mandate then the word has no meaning. Bush and his country -- and the rest of the world -- now have to deal with it." "We have few illusions about the course he will take," the paper concluded. "Yet both America and the world need a handshake right now, not a clenched fist of defiance. In an interconnected world, such choices matter and shape all our uncertain futures."

The Times offered a contrast. The London daily observed that Bush's election victory was an historic opportunity for the president and laid out a list of things the next administration must do: engage in the Middle East peace process, finish the work in Iraq and remain firm on the Kyoto Protocol in view of US interests.

"Even if Mr Bush were to do all this and more, there would still be some who belittle him or doubt the sincerity of his motives," the paper concluded. "That is unfortunate. The president should not waste time trying to appease or win over those who have no time for him. There is the chance, perhaps, that with the passage of time the qualities which Americans see in this politician will become more obvious to others. Mr Bush must exploit the prominence that he has been given for four more years."

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