European leaders and political analysts were nearly unanimous Wednesday in welcoming the election of George Bush as a sign of “continuity” during a time of improved U.S.-Soviet relations that have boosted American popularity to one of its highest levels in Europe since the end of World War II.
Ideological preferences were apparently not an important factor in the European reaction. Leaders in the ruling French Socialist Party of President Francois Mitterand warmly applauded the Republican victory, as did their counterparts in the conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher in Britain and Helmut Kohl in West Germany.
Gorbachev Sends Message
The positive European reaction was echoed in the Soviet Union, where President Mikhail S. Gorbachev sent Bush a message of congratulations, saying he was “ready to continue and deepen mutually beneficial Soviet-American cooperation” and work with Bush on “improvement of the entire international situation.” A Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman said an early summit was possible.
On Wednesday--after many Europeans stayed up into the wee hours to watch American election returns, covered more extensively than ever before by national networks and the expanding array of private television channels--nothing about George Bush appeared to be too small for praise.
French Foreign Affairs Minister Roland Dumas, for example, attached broad significance to the fact that Bush spoke French at a recent appearance.
“He is very attentive to European problems,” Dumas said appreciatively. “I think he also values French policy. You notice he spoke a few words of French (at a rally in Houston on Tuesday).”
In Bush, the European leaders said, they are dealing with an already well-known public figure whom most have met personally. Democratic candidate Michael S. Dukakis, although viewed as a capable man, represented the unknown. After eight years of mostly friction-free relations under President Reagan, the Europeans were in no mood for change.
Prefers No Drastic Changes
Italian political scientist Cesare Merlini, president of the Institute of International Affairs in Rome, reflected the don’t-spoil-a-good-thing attitude prevalent in Europe when he urged Bush on Wednesday not to make any drastic changes in policy just to prove he is a different man than Reagan.
“I think the general echo from Europe,” Merlini said, “is ‘Continuity, please.’ By this, I mean continuity in East-West relations and questions relating to the Atlantic Alliance.”
The election of Bush, British Prime Minister Thatcher told reporters Wednesday morning, “gives Europe enormous confidence and continuity, and I think it gives much of the world the knowledge that the President will already be familiar with their problems.
“He’s been to many of their countries,” Thatcher said. “He knows many of them. Therefore, we’ll get perhaps a smoother changeover than we’ve had for many years.”
Familiarity was also the main reason Europeans were generally enthusiastic about Bush’s first choice for his Cabinet, political ally and friend James A. Baker III as secretary of state. “He is a well-known figure who has met several times over the course of years with President Mitterand,” said a French diplomat.
‘Spared Unseemly Babble’
“A man of quality,” the Evening Standard newspaper in London said of Baker in a Wednesday editorial. “As a former White House chief of staff and a personal friend of Mr. Bush, he will be able to get an early grip on the foreign policy machine. Americans could be spared the unseemly babble of competing claims for the President’s ear, and Europeans the pangs of uncertainty as to whose voice to attend to.”
Not all European editorial comment, however, was such lyric praise for the new Bush Administration.
Wrote the conservative Daily Telegraph: “No one has pretended--least of all George Bush himself--that he is a man of style. He is neither a mover of mountains nor an entertainer of millions. He is a decent, even stolid man. But stolidity has its advantages. When America’s temperature subsides, Europe perspires less. . . . “
No Joy in Greek Village
Meanwhile, there was no joy Wednesday in the small Greek mountain village of Pelopi, which calls itself Dukakis’ hometown.
According to an Associated Press reporter who visited the remote town on the northeastern Aegean island of Mytilene, the 700 villagers, mostly sheep and goat breeders, had pinned their hopes on a Dukakis victory to promote tourism in the area.
“We’re disappointed; we thought Michalis would make it,” said Michalis Kamiris, vice president of the village council. “I hope Bush doesn’t hold a grudge against Greece for backing him.”
Also contributing to this story were Times correspondents Dan Fisher and Tyler Marshall in London, William Tuohy in Bonn and researcher Janet Stobart in Rome.