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U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden celebrate at their election night victory rally in Chicago, Nov. 7, 2012.JIM BOURG/Reuters

Four years ago, Europe was ecstatic about the end of the era of George W. Bush, whom they blamed for the financial crisis and two highly unpopular wars, and the election of a young president who represented change and hope and possibly a more productive transatlantic relationship.

On Wednesday morning, Europe was decidedly less enthusiastic about Mr. Obama's re-election, but certainly happier than the alternative. Mitt Romney failed to make a good impression on his European visit in August.

They considered Mr. Romney more trigger-happy than his rival and his apparently wholesale support for Israel did not go over well in a continent that puts the Middle East in its own neighbourhood. Some countries, like Spain, that are suffering from recessions made worse by grinding austerity measures were also philosophically opposed to a candidate who pushed hard for government spending cuts.

The Guardian newspaper, in Britain, did not consider Mr. Obama's victory in a long, nasty campaign a reward for achievement. "In the end Mr Obama owes his second term more to his vast campaign war chest and the ruthless professionalism of his get-out-the-vote machine than he did the first time around, when hope and idealism did more to carry him to the White House."

In France, Le Monde was tempered its support and praise for Mr. Obama. It called him "not always brilliant, but solid."

In Italy, Rome's Il Messaggero newspaper professed some surprise that Mr. Obama was re-elected, given the tepid economic revival and the still-high (though declining) jobless rate. In a comment piece, Riccardo de Palo said that "Only Franklin Delano Roosevelt succeeded in the feat of getting re-election against a backdrop of such a unfavourable economy," adding that Mr. Obama's second term will be no picnic for man who is "less charismatic, but more mature, less naive."

Italians in general seemed happy that Mr. Obama swept to a second victory, partly because Mr. Romney is largely an unknown quantity in Italy and partly because they are aware of some of Mr. Obama's accomplishments. "I would say that I am happy for the hope that he could give to the American and for his health-care reforms," said Simona Minervini, a Roman who runs an international language school."

Germany, Europe's biggest economy, was quick to welcome Mr. Obama's victory even though German politicians do not morally approve of the rising debt and gaping budget deficits run by the American government under the Obama administration. Germany, like Britain and other European countries, hope the president's second term will focus more on the apparently waning links between the United States and Europe.

Former German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, now the floor-leader of the Opposition Social Democrats, said "We have an interest in Europe remaining important, which is why we have to invest more in co-operation across the Atlantic," he said, according to Germany's Spiegel Online. "We are always pouting in the corner waiting for the Americans to redefine the transatlantic relationship."

Europeans were upset last month when, in the third presidential debate, which focused on the economy, neither candidate talked about America's relationship with Europe, which is still the world's biggest market. Only debt-choked Greece was mentioned, giving the impression that both men consider much of Europe a writeoff.

An opinion poll in northern Europe, published last week, put support for Mr. Obama at 90 per cent. According to Reuters, one of the few media outlets in Europe to support Mr. Romney over Mr. Obama was Switzerland's Neue Zuercher Zeitung, which argued that Mr. Romney was more likely to break the "reform logjam" in Washington.