Many european leaders may quietly nurse a hope that a joe biden victory in novembers us election could herald a new era of atlanticism after donald trumps diplomatic rampage which threatened trade wars and cast doubt on his commitment to nato. they may have to ask themselves if their own people agree.
Last week, the clingendael institute published a survey of public opinion in the netherlands. it showed rising dutch scepticism about the reliability of transatlantic co-operation. when asked whether the us represented a threat to european security, 29 per cent answered yes not far below the 35 and 36 per cent who said the same about china and russia. a whopping 79 per cent expect the us to reduce its protection of europe in the next five years and demand that the continent takes more responsibility for its own security.
The dutch population expects the policy challenges of the day to be solved primarily in a european context rather than a western, atlanticist context, said rem korteweg, a clingendael senior research fellow and co-author of the report. indeed, 72 per cent of the respondents said the netherlands should collaborate more with france and germany, including 53 per cent saying so when asked about military co-operation.
That is surprising the transatlantic reflex is super strong traditionally, said mr korteweg.
The dutch are not alone. earlier this month, a pew research center survey found that in france, germany, the uk and sweden, as well as in the netherlands, the share of the public with a favourable view of the us was at or near its lowest level in the two decades the poll has been run. perceptions have not been helped by the us response to the coronavirus pandemic, which all national respondent groups rated as worse than their own countrys, the eus, the whos or chinas.
As europeans cool towards the us, americans are distancing themselves from europe, said alexandra de hoop scheffer, director of the german marshall fund think-tank in paris.
We need to look at the deep trends, not presidential tweets, said ms de hoop scheffer. look at how american society is being reshaped in many ways such as demographically, with more americans tracing their ancestry to latin america or asia. the interest in the old continent will naturally, culturally decline, she said.
Politically, too, europe is not the strategic focus of washington any more today, said ms de hoop scheffer, who thinks the transatlantic relationship will increasingly be seen in the light of the global us-china rivalry.
All this suggests that the person who becomes the next us president may matter less for european interests than some would like to think. after the iraq war european attitudes towards the us were at rock bottom, then soared after barack obamas election. but mr obamas first administration was frankly a real disappointment for europe...his reflexes were not transatlantic at all, said mr korteweg.
The same could happen again, he said: bidens message, even if packaged in a velvet glove, can be just as tough [as trumps] in terms of defence spending and bringing europeans on side, for example, when it comes to dealing with china.
Ms de hoop scheffer points out that european countries elites vary in how aligned they expect us and european interests to be in the long term. france is among the most sceptical, she said, recalling the country was willing in 2013 to take action on syria, then obama changed his mind. germans are more prone to a rosy, perhaps naive hope that a biden victory will set things right, while for poland and its neighbours the us troop presence is existential.
Rather than broader european unity, ms de hoop scheffer predicts the uk-german-french e3 format will probably be the main policy circle washington will turn to when deciding important issues.
Still, she believes that regardless who the president is, the next white house will find its european counterparts more willing to state our disagreementswith the white house... because we have had training with trump.