Some European observers have portrayed Spain's election result as the beginning of a new isolationism - and a delusional one at that - because it will not necessarily make the continent any safer. Yet there is another way of looking at the resounding turnaround in fortunes for Jose Maria Aznar's defeated government. The victory for the Socialist party led by Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is a surprise. Before this week, Mr Aznar had been presiding over one of Europe's fastest growing and most confident countries. He was also a stalwart supporter of the United States' decision to invade Iraq a year ago. The only question seemed to be the margin by which the prime minister's handpicked successor would be voted into office. But that was before last week's bombings in Madrid. Mr Zapatero's party was voted in on the back of promises to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq and, by implication, to move away from an alliance with the US in favour of closer ties with 'old Europe', as represented by France and Germany. These events do not have to result in European isolationism or put security at stake. On the contrary, there have already been calls for European ministers to meet and co-ordinate a response to the bombings and terrorist threats. The Socialists' intention to withdraw troops from Iraq should the United Nations not take over by July does leave those countries closely allied with the US in its war on terrorism more isolated. And it will shift the centre of gravity within a European Union that is divided over whether to take that American leadership for granted. All the indications are that Spain will now cast its lot with France and Germany, both of which objected to the misguided American idea of going into Iraq without a United Nations mandate. This does not mean that the EU must now turn inward and away from the world. This choice does not really exist, and the Madrid bombings, now being attributed to members of the al-Qaeda network, are proof of this. It is entirely possible, however, that the new European balance opens the way for EU members to articulate their own response to the terrorism threat, one that provides security for its citizens but does not blindly follow all of the US policies in the name of fighting extremism. These events are unfolding as the UN Commission on Human Rights is about to meet. Among the proposals to be discussed will be a mechanism for monitoring how countries treat terror suspects. European representatives may argue forcefully in favour of these measures. There are also implications beyond the fight against terrorism: Mr Zapatero has already indicated a willingness to move ahead more quickly on writing an EU constitution. The project has been stalled for months, in part because of Spanish opposition over voting rules. The Madrid bombings and the election results could also have ripple effects far beyond Spain and beyond Europe. Britain's Tony Blair, facing an election early next year, may have to face a public grown weary of the occupation of Iraq and continuing questions over the original justifications for the war. Allies in Asia, namely the Philippines and Australia, are unlikely to waver, despite last week's events. But at least in Australia there is renewed debate over the risks inherent in being seen as a close ally of the US. For democratic governments in Italy, Poland and Australia, as in Britain, there is no ruling out the possibility this will become an election issue. Opposition parties hoping to win should be prepared to say how the war on terror can be won without exacting a high cost at home. Rejection of American policies alone will not be enough.