In the European Union, we tend to idealize the United States as an international partner. But we should stop that as soon as possible — regardless of who the US president is, DW’s Alexandra von Nahmen writes.

Leaders in the European Union are watching the events unfolding in the US with shock and horror. The United States, called the cradle of modern democracy, as tottering. Incumbent President Donald Trump has already claimed victory and, without evidence, accused the opposition of election fraud — although votes remain to be counted. Some observers are warning of a constitutional crisis. Many cannot understand why so many Americans would vote to reelect Trump.

Many in the European Union are disappointed — some might even say offended — and are wondering about the future of their trans-Atlantic partner. In the past four years, its once familiar behavior has become increasingly erratic and difficult to understand.

Many would have been happy to be spared the suspense of this election and to witness the president’s quick defeat. An election win for his rival, Joe Biden, would lead to a quick restoration of trust. At least, that’s what politicians are hoping for in Germany, France and Spain.

This election has made it clear that it makes no sense to idealize the United States. The romanticized view of the nation, which some Americans describe as “a shining city on a hill,” is obsolete. It already was when President Barack Obama was in office. It will be the case even if Joe Biden becomes president.

Always ‘America First’

The United States has consistently taken a pragmatic approach to its partnerships. The crucial question for US foreign policy is whether a partnership will benefit its interests.

It is true that there is a particular bond between the European Union and the US that is based on a common past and values. But US leaders tend to approach their partnerships more as a coolheaded cost-benefit analysis.

Under Obama, the US turned its attention away from the European Union and look more toward countries across the Pacific. In future, competition with China will continue to keep US leaders on their toes. The United States will no longer be the “policeman of the world.” “Buy American” and “Hire American” will remain popular slogans. Even if Biden wins, the demands he makes of nations within Europe will not be so different from those of his predecessor.

A realistic partnership

The earlier leaders in the European Union accept this, the better. It would be even better if Brussels were to have a strategy on how to approach this. Admittedly, the European Union is not close to achieving the goal of strategic autonomy. However, it has no alternative but to play a larger geopolitical role and take more responsibility for its own security.

The European Union cannot do without the US of course. Both sides need each other and have something to offer in the partnership. But there has to be more self-confidence within the European Union. The US may stand for superior military capacity, Silicon Valley and unrestricted freedom. However, it also stands for inequality, deregulation of the economy and rampant capitalism.

There is nothing wrong with continuing to love certain aspects of the United States and to admire its history and optimism. But it would help the European Union more if politicians showed more confidence and strategy in their dealings with the US and could concentrate less on the White House and its occupant.