The European public and its leaders have embraced Barack Obama’s victory while, in most cases, expressing some reservations.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy hailed Obama’s success, declaring:  “With the world in turmoil and doubt, the American people, faithful to the values that have always defined America’s identity, have expressed with force their faith in progress and the future.  At a time when we must face huge challenges together, your election has raised enormous hope in France, in Europe and beyond.”  He even added, “Obama is my buddy!” 

The newspaper Liberation heralded a new era of U.S.-French relations:

In this election, a French bias about Americans is swept away.  Every four years, we complain about the poor voter turnout in the USA – which is a reality.  But this year, given the election’s historical significance and thanks to the technological advances of the Internet, we saw an exemplary mobilization of American voters.  There were impressive lines at the voting booths, and voters showed a higher-than-usual level of interest.

We also need to change our preconceptions about American prejudice.  For the first time, an African-American and a woman were candidates for the highest office in the land. It seems like America could teach us a thing or two about democracy.

Le Monde was surprisingly more skeptical, raising doubts similar to those voiced by journalist Paul Heutching on Tuesday.  The paper reminded its readership that the U.S. will continue to look after U.S. interests under Obama:  “Domestically, Barack Obama is defending a program that is better suited to the American economic crisis.  …  In foreign policy, a Democratic president won’t work miracles. But through his personality, Barack Obama will be in harmony with a world where the economic and political center is no longer the West.”  However, these comments seem a bit misplaced.  There is a strong case that the global financial crisis has reaffirmed the central role of the U.S. in the world economy.  Countries everywhere are quickly soaking up as many dollars as they can into their exchange reserves, and the Western capitalist model remains the only viable option for global economics.   (For more on this, see Martin Wolf’s comments to the Atlantic Council last week.)

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel also commented on her hopes for improved transatlantic relations.  She addressed the following to Obama:  “The world faces significant challenges at the start of your term.  I am convinced that Europe and the United States will work closely and in a spirit of mutual trust together to confront new dangers and risks and will seize the opportunities presented by our global world.”  Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier was similarly excited, stating that Obama has advocated “breathing new life into trans-Atlantic relations.”  Severin Weiland at Spiegel summed up his opinions on the future of U.S.-German relations:  “With hopes of more cooperation among allies, a more ambitious attitude toward climate protection, and less aggressive rhetoric, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her administration have great expectations for Barack Obama.  But no one should expect a new era of permanent harmony.”

In the UK, even the conservative Daily Telegraph was split over the Obama victory.  Simon Heffer emphatically criticized Obama’s foreign policy:

It is less clear that Mr. Obama has any grasp of the threat from a destabilized Pakistan.  …  Iran, Afghanistan, and Russia, and irritating difficulties on Mr. Obama’s own doorstep in Central and South America, are sure to test him.  Mr. Obama has so far displayed a mixture of immaturity and naivety on such questions.

However, Iain Martin was more optimistic, titling his column “Obama Allows Britain to Love U.S. Again.”  Prime Minister Gordon Brown called Obama a “true friend of Britain.”  He also added: “[W]e share many values. We both have determination to show that government can act to help people fairly through these difficult times facing the global economy.”  Anatole Kaletsky of the Times claimed that the U.S. has become a left-leaning nation, although a political barometer would still probably put the country at center or center-right.

The NRC’s Peter van Os writes that the Netherlands is ecstatic on both ends of the political spectrum.  Arie Slob, parliamentary leader of the ChristenUnie party, said that Obama’s election “puts right a centuries old injustice,” while Sybrand van Haersma Buma, a Christian Democrat member of parliament, even claimed that, “These elections are more important for the world than for the U.S.”  The Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende stressed the need for greater coordination within the Atlantic community:  “The necessity for cooperation between Europe and the United States is bigger than ever. Only by close transatlantic cooperation can we face the world’s challenges.”  Yet, fellow Christian Democrat Henk Jan Ormel harbored doubts:  “The policy of consensus which Obama favors and which is also popular here is not going to be effective enough when dealing with countries such as China.”

In Italy, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini echoed Balkenende’s sentiment:  “Europe, which is celebrating Obama, must know that Europe be will be called on to be a producer of security and no longer merely a consumer. I think Obama will rightly call on us to take our responsibilities more seriously.”  The Corriere della Sera newspaper from Milan had mixed but generally positive views, comparing Obama to FDR and calling him “the man who can save America from utter breakdown with a New Deal.”  Here are the extended remarks:

He even won over the financial markets, which is surprising, since the Democrats’ new front man wants to give more power to labor unions and rein in free trade.  …  But in fact, in the 1930s it took Roosevelt’s policies a long time to create jobs, and it turned out to be a cure-all for the markets.  Unsettled by the financial crisis, Americans are anxious for security.  The country wants to see projects in the works, and it needs vision.

In all, two issues seem to persist most in Europe as points of skepticism.  The first is the extent to which Obama will take European opinions into account when implementing U.S. foreign policy, and the second is whether he will act on the anti-free trade rhetoric seen during his campaign.  However, the reactions to Obama’s victory were overwhelmingly positive, and hopes for improved transatlantic relations remain high.

Peter Cassata is assistant editor at the Atlantic Council.