PARIS – European leaders may have breathed audible sighs of relief when U.S. President Joe Biden visited them last week to proclaim the Trump era over, but they are giving his top diplomat even more effusive welcomes.
As Antony Blinken tours traditional American allies this week, senior European officials are treating him like the rock star he once aspired to be for simply representing the shift from former President Donald Trump.
Policy differences, some of them significant, have been largely tossed aside for what appear to have become mutual celebrations of Biden's anti-Trump persona in western Europe.
Top diplomats in Germany and France dropped all diplomatic caution in expressing their glee that Trump is no longer in charge on the other side of the Atlantic as they welcomed Blinken to their countries on Thursday and Friday. Similar sentiments are expected from Italian officials when Blinken travels to Rome on Sunday.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas rejoiced that America “is back on our side again” while French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian hailed the end of Trump's four years in office during which he said Europe alone was left to shoulder the burden of international responsibility and leadership.
In Blinken, Europe is encountering a French-fluent soulmate who spent his formative years living and attending high school in Paris and traveling in the 1970s and 80s, a time he recalls with deep fondness and affection for most things European.
It's far cry from his predecessor, Mike Pompeo, whose previous European experience was serving as a tank commander in West Germany in the waning years of the Cold War. And, like his boss, Pompeo regarded Europe largely as an overly dependent annoyance, and held little regard for the European predilection for multilateralism and consensus.
Pompeo prided himself on challenging long-held European beliefs and often spoke longingly of a speech he once delivered in Brussels in which he trashed the United Nations, the European Union and other multilateral institutions before an audience with a vested interest in them.
Blinken is the literal opposite, championing cooperation and close relationships with some of America's longest-standing allies.
Sharing a beer with Maas before a group of young German exchange students at a restored 1920s Berlin dance hall, Blinken spoke of a teenage road trip he and friends had taken from Paris to Hamburg, where they tried unsuccessfully to follow The Beatles into rock music history. “That didn’t happen,” he said wryly.
“Anyway, I have extremely warm and strong and long memories of being in Germany and having very close friends,” he said, before proclaiming that he and Maas are “in violent agreement” on most issues.
Maas, who had a notoriously testy relationship with Pompeo, could barely contain his excitement at having a new interlocutor, one with whom he spent several hours over the course of four joint events in less than two days.
“From the very first telephone conversation we had after Tony took the office of secretary of state, at the end of the telephone call I couldn’t help myself by saying ‘Tony, I still have to get used to the fact that I can speak to the American foreign secretary and always be of the same view because that used to be different beforehand,'” Maas said.
Maas hailed Biden's election as “a genuine game-changer for international politics, the biggest for quite a while.
“The United States are back on the international stage and that is really something that we missed,” he said on Thursday.
A day later, Le Drian offered Blinken similarly warm remarks of relief and appreciation.
“Welcome back," Le Drian said. “It is excellent news for all of us that America is back. It is a comeback to the values that we share, it is a comeback to the multilateralism that we built together and it is our responsibility to continue with it intensively. This is what France and the Europeans had to fight for alone for four very long years.”