There is a striking contrast between European media anxiously monitoring the slightest variations in the United States presidential polls combined with their blow-by-blow attention to the weather patterns above New York City, and the fact that the word "Europe" was uttered only once, during the last debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. European observers concluded from this that Europe no longer counts on the world stage. It is also the sign that the US is abandoning a global vision to refocus on what it sees as its best interests: the economy and employment, relations with China and its style of social protection.
It is a known fact that Barack Obama symbolises a turning point in an America that no longer has affinities with the Old Continent. Born in Hawaii of an African father, raised in Indonesia, Obama presides a country in which the nation’s share of Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians is growing steadily. And even the Republican candidate, although elected to public office in New England, is a Mormon, thus a far cry from the traditional WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant) that determined domestic and international policies in previous decades.
In this (first?) Obama term, Europe will have had to manage two legacies: that of the Iraq and Afghan wars and that of the 2007 sub-prime crisis. At the price of some rousing internal debates (which caused a Dutch government to fall) and tensions within NATO, most European countries have begun or ended their pull-out of Afghanistan without calling into question their ties to the US or the unity of the EU, as had been the case in 2003 with the war in Iraq.
However, the sub-prime crisis, which mutated into a crisis of banks, debt, economies and societies, is a much more substantial legacy. Despite many G8 and G20 meetings and many phone calls from Obama to European leaders, it seemed impossible to implement an efficient, common management strategy. And despite the mutual benefits derived from both a healthy dollar and sturdy euro, Washington and the Eurozone have not engaged in concerted monetary policies, especially regarding the Chinese yuan.
As for the rest, Barack Obama, who managed trans-Atlantic relations through video conferencing, stood by the British and the French during their Libya campaign, furnishing the military hardware they needed and thus avoiding them a humiliating quagmire. But the U.S. left the Europeans isolated during global warming talks and caused the planet to lose several years of precious time.
For Europe, the candidate’s slogan of "Yes, we can" which gathered tens of thousands of hopeful supporters in Berlin in 2008, came to stand for a lacklustre transition period. But Europeans continue to vote "for" Obama. Living in a post-historic continent, better calm relations to the clamour of the Bush years or the incomprehensible conservatism of Mitt Romney.