Those of us who were rooting for Barack Obama earlier this week are experiencing the warm glow of victory, albeit from a few thousand miles away. And it is clear that, as opinion polls indicated a 90% approval rating for the President across the EU, his win is a popular one in Europe.
In terms of the popular vote the result was a narrow one. In terms of the key swing states (marginal seats in our parlance) he successfully swept all before him.
For Labour, Obama was the only choice. The options offered by Romney, whether his tax breaks for the rich and austerity economics on the one hand, or the Republicans’ thoroughly frightening approach to many social issues, such as abortion, on the other, meant that we were united in our hopes that Obama would go on to his second four-year term.
For the Tories, things were rather more confused. As a sister party to the Republicans, they couldn’t officially oppose Romney, though a number apparently were secretly hoping for an Obama win. Some like Daniel Hannan MEP, having strangely supported Obama four years ago, was back in the Republican fold , while others still, like Margot James MP, a Tory vice chairman (sic) tweeted how good it was to hear the news of an Obama victory.
But now that the dust has settled, what does a second Obama term mean for us on this side of the pond?
The relationship between the European Union and the USA has not been easy in recent years. Europeans may like Barack Obama and what he is trying to do, but the American President has on more than one occasion made it clear that Asia is at least as important as Europe and has certainly devoted more effort to developing relationships there than with America’s longer term allies on this continent. Indeed one commentator has suggested that, under Obama, the US is less involved in Europe than at any time since before the First World War, and that there was real potential for a surge in anti-American feeling.
Obama has been judicious in what he has said about Europe (indeed during the American election campaign it was barely mentioned), but it is clear that he feels that not only is European leadership not up to the challenge of the present economic crisis, not least in the Eurozone, but that it’s austerity policies are wrong-headed, and it is economic stimulus for growth which is needed.
Nevertheless it is vital for both America and Europe that in many ways we renew our political vows and work on a relationship which European Parliament President Martin Schultz MEP described as experiencing fatigue in recent years.
Global economic recovery, a renewed attack on climate change and the many security challenges that face us, such as Iran, are all areas where Europe and the USA have traditionally worked closely together. We must do so again.
Many Tories, of course, will try instead to stress the relationship between America and Britain, rather than that between America and the EU. Of course our own country’s connections with America are hugely important for all kinds of reasons. But in all the nostalgia of previous times, let’s not miss the fact that America, or at least American business, wants this relationship today largely to use the UK as a gateway into the single European market of over 500 million people.
The relationship between the UK and the USA needs to thrive, but for it to do so, we in Britain need to be fully involved and participating within the EU.
What is clear in all of this is the inconsequential nature of individual member states trying to go their own way. The advocates of taking Britain out of the EU would do well to realise this.