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European funk: Commissioned poll finds ‘crisis of confidence’ with U.S., EU

Socially distanced world leaders at the G7.
Special to

By John J. Metzler

European majorities seem troubled and deeply disillusioned over the ongoing COVID pandemic, which has turned into a crisis of confidence in the European Union, and equally stirred lingering doubts about the United States as a partner and ally.

This gloomy assessment is reflected in a current poll which “finds that confidence in the EU has collapsed during the Covid-19 pandemic”, and that in countries such as Germany, France, Spain and Italy, a majority of citizens now see the European project as “broken.” As dangerously, the report finds that “confidence in the United States is still low.”

Equally many Europeans view Turkey as a greater “rival” or “adversary” than the People’s Republic of China or Russia.

The results were released on the cusp of major international conferences such as the G-7 Meeting, the NATO Summit, and a meeting between American President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. The polling by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) commissioned through groups such as Alpha and You Gov, surveyed citizens in 12 EU member states, shows citizens’ deep disillusionment with their national political systems.

Europe’s deep political funk stems largely from the European Union’s haphazard vaccine response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The majority of respondents in France (62 percent), Germany, (55 percent), and Italy (57 percent) view the European project as “broken.”

The report adds, “Despite this crisis of public confidence, there is still a widespread belief that greater European Union cooperation is needed.”

In France for example where citizens go to the polls in 2022 for presidential elections, two thirds of those surveyed (66 percent) hold the view that their national political system is broken. That feeling translates to (80 percent) in Italy and (80 percent) in Spain.

The poll reveals very troubling trends in how the United States is viewed. Though the Biden Administration has redoubled efforts to rhetorically smooth Transatlantic ties, only one in five respondents view the U.S. as an “ally” that shares Europe’s “values and interests.” Many (44 percent) see the U.S. as a “necessary partner” they must “strategically cooperate with on the international stage.” Higher numbers in Poland, Denmark and Hungary view the USA as an ally that shares their “values and interests.”

For example, 80 percent of Poles view the United States as an “ally” or “necessary partner.”  This is equally true among the Danes, Dutch, Hungarians and Portuguese. But the numbers shift to 58 percent support in Germany and 61 percent among the French.

Many Europeans see a world of strategic partners rather than alliances; a sad observation given the extraordinary role the United States played through the Marshall Plan and the subsequent NATO Alliance forged in the post-war era.

The survey underscores an interesting fact; large numbers of Europeans view Turkey, given its geographical proximity, rather than China as their chief adversary. A majority in France (53 percent) and Germany, (52 percent) saw Turkey as an EU “rival or adversary”. Equally over 40 percent of those in Germany, Denmark, Austria and France viewed China as a “rival or adversary.”

Considerable majorities in key countries such as the Netherlands, Austria, Germany and Sweden wanted to see the EU criticize Turkey and China when they violate human rights and democratic values. Overall Germany exhibits a growing nervousness over Turkey; these views emerging largely because of Erdogan’s authoritarian Islamist regime.

Yet here’s an ironic twist; Russia is not viewed as a “rival” or “adversary” but instead as a “necessary partner” by many Europeans! Remarkably, only 17 percent of respondents to ECFR’s poll see Russia as an adversary; this figure drops down to 5-7 percent among Bulgarians and Italians.

ECFR senior policy fellow Jana Puglierin stated, “As our data shows, this was an opportunity that was passed up by the leadership in Brussels, to the disappointment of Europeans. The pivot from “self-doubt” to “self-assurance,” which Ursula von der Leyen (European Commission President) spoke of in 2019, failed to manifest and a crisis of confidence instead set in.”

The report warns, “There’s been a major collapse in Germans trust in the European Union”.

Naturally such an undertow from the ongoing pandemic may play a unpredictable role as Germany approaches pivotal national elections in late September.

Viewing the bigger picture, there’s no doubt that the American image has taken serious political hits in Europe especially since the Iraq War in 2003.  European media outlets, very often reflecting the U.S. mainstream media animus, had glibly demonized the George W. Bush and especially Donald Trump Administrations. This reality still negatively impacts on transatlantic relations. It needs to be resolved.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]
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