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Last 4 Years Have Tarnished U.S. Image In Europe. Will Biden Be Able To Improve It?


President-elect Biden says he will work to rebuild relationships with European leaders, but as NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports, the last four years may have permanently tarnished America's image in Europe.


JUSTIN VAISSE: Welcome to the third edition of the Paris Peace Forum.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The Paris Peace Forum opened this week, more than 150 nations and organizations looking for ways to solve the world's problems through multilateralism and international cooperation. Director and founder Justin Vaisse says even though it's virtual this year, the U.S. still sent no official representative.


VAISSE: So in 2018, when the forum was founded, Donald Trump was actually in Paris because he was there for the hundredth anniversary of World War I. And even though he was present in Paris, he didn't show up at the forum, even though leaders like Merkel, Putin, Trudeau and many others were actually present.

BEARDSLEY: Aside from a few illiberal populist governments on Europe's eastern flank, most of Europe is breathing a sigh of relief over the change in administration, and nowhere more so than in Germany.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So I used to be a fan of Merkel. I used to think she was terrific, a big leader, a great leader. I think what she did to Germany is a disgrace.

BEARDSLEY: President Trump loved to lash out at Germany and its chancellor, Angela Merkel, even on the campaign trail. Sudha David-Wilp of the German Marshall Fund says German opinions of the U.S. have never been lower.

SUDHA DAVID-WILP: Just a quarter percent of Germans have a positive view of the United States at the moment.

BEARDSLEY: There have been other low points, says David-Wilp, like during the Iraq War. But America's image quickly rebounded with the election of Barack Obama. This time, David-Wilp says America's image may not recover so fast.

DAVID-WILP: Germans have become very savvy to U.S. politics and also realize that, although President Trump lost, he did better than expected. And Trumpism is here to stay for the near future.

BEARDSLEY: Trump's tariffs on European food and wine and his threats to withdraw from NATO have made many in Europe feel they can't count on the U.S. as before.



BEARDSLEY: In 2017, Merkel proclaimed that Europe must depend on itself. Sylvie Kauffmann, deputy editor of French newspaper Le Monde, says Biden will make the transatlantic relationship positive and amicable again. And she says Europeans were impressed by the U.S. election.

SYLVIE KAUFFMANN: When we saw that the turnout was so high, that people were going to vote in droves or had mailed their votes, the fact that the turnout was so high gave the impression that, you know, democracy was working.

BEARDSLEY: But Kauffmann says political events since the election do not bode well for America's image.

KAUFFMANN: The fact that President Trump is refusing to concede, calling for demonstrations, that the Republican leadership is not backing down either.

BEARDSLEY: Four years of populism and isolationism in America have had an impact in Europe. Twenty-nine-year-old Parisian Martin Congelosi says, after Trump, he doesn't see America the way he used to.

MARTIN CONGELOSI: When I was a kid, I used to think America was a great place, like a dream, you know, the American dream. That's something in Europe we think about, you know? But, for example, now, I don't even think America is still a great country. I feel really sorry about that.

BEARDSLEY: A regret shared by many Europeans who worry that the United States and Europe have grown permanently further apart.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.
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