The widening Atlantic, Financial Times

Every year the annual “Transatlantic Trends” opinion survey provides a fascinating, if often alarming, insight into the state of transatlantic relations. The latest report, organised by the German Marshall Fund, has just been released. It deserves particular attention given the impending fifth anniversary of 9/11. It will not make for happy reading in Washington. But it is unlikely to cheer up the leaders of Iran either – there is surprisingly strong European support for the idea of military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.

The big picture is that European sympathy for the United States and support for US global leadership fell precipitately in the wake of the invasion of Iraq – and is still in the doldrums. In 2002, 64 per cent of Europeans saw American leadership in world affairs as “desirable”; by 2004 that had fallen to 36 per cent, and this year the figure is 37 per cent. Mention George W.Bush explicitly and approval ratings fall even further. Just 18 per cent of Europeans approve of his handling of world affairs.


Behind the big picture there is a wealth of fascinating detail. There are four points that strike me as particularly interesting:

1) The sharpest decline in support for America has come in the most traditionally Atlanticist countries such as the Netherlands, Britain and Portugal. At a popular level, the traditional distinction between the pro-American British and the anti-American French no longer really holds. A chart of “Who supports the US most” shows the Romanians as the most pro-American country polled and the Turks as easily the most anti-American. The UK and France are grouped next to each other in the middle, with the British only marginally more supportive than the French.

2) Perhaps the most surprising and counter-intuitive trend is that all this European suspicion of American global leadership will not necessarily translate into opposition to military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities. Both Americans and Europeans regards military strikes as the worst option available. But on both sides of the Atlantic, lots of people are prepared to contemplate military strikes as a last resort, “if diplomacy fails”: 53 per cent of Americans support military action under those circumstances, as do 45 per cent of Europeans. The French are actually marginally more bellicose than the Americans: 54 per cent of French people would support military strikes as a last resort.

3) Something strange and disturbing is happening in Turkey. For the first time ever less than 50 per cent of Turks (44 per cent to be precise) are prepared to accept the idea that “Nato is still essential”. Turkish support for joining the EU is still above 50 per cent - but only just. It stands at 54 per cent compared with 73 per cent two years ago. And Turks are dramatically out of sympathy with America. Asked to rate their feelings for other nations and groups of people out of 100, the most popular group are the Palestinians (47), followed by the EU (45), Germany (44) and Iran (43). America is down at 20, beaten in the unpopularity stakes only by Israel on 12.

4) Finally, although anti-Americanism in Europe is often dismissed as an elite phenomenon, a separate “European elites survey” suggests that exactly the opposite is true. GMF polled a large group of members of the European parliament and officials working for the European Commission. They found that 73 per cent of parliamentarians and 75 per cent of Commission officials were prepared to say that US leadership is “somewhat desirable”, compared with less than 40 per cent of the general public. Mind you, only one out of 50 Commission officials polled had a positive view of George W. Bush. Presumably that individual will now have to be found and sacked.


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