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Poll: Europeans iffy on trans-Atlantic relations

Europeans are skeptical that trans-Atlantic relations will improve after Americans select a new president next year, according to a survey released Thursday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Europeans are skeptical that trans-Atlantic relations will improve after Americans select a new president next year, according to a survey released Thursday.

Still, most Europeans favor cooperation with the United States in dealing with global threats, according to the survey conducted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a nonpartisan policy institution that promotes trans-Atlantic cooperation, and the Compagnia di San Paolo, a research center in Turin, Italy.

The survey was conducted June 4-23 and followed efforts by some European leaders to mend relations with the United States after years of tensions over U.S. policy in the Middle East, U.S. management of the war in Iraq and differences on addressing global warming.

Many respondents in the United States and in Europe agreed about why relations had declined in recent years. Thirty-eight percent in both places said management of the Iraq war was the most important factor. Thirty-nine percent of Americans believed President Bush himself has been the biggest factor, while 34 percent of Europeans cited Bush.

Though more than three-quarters of Europeans polled said they disapproved of Bush’s international policies, only slightly more than a third said they believed that relations would improve with a new president.

Indeed, a majority of Europeans — 58 percent — said U.S. leadership in world affairs was undesirable.

Despite that, Europeans remained open to working with the United States to address global threats. Slightly more than half of Europeans still believed that the European Union should cooperate with the United States in dealing with threats.

Changing perceptions
That could reflect changes in European perceptions of the threats they face. The fear of international terrorism has risen in Europe by 16 percentage points since a similar survey in 2005, closing a gap in threat perception with the United States. About two-thirds of Europeans said they felt likely to be personally affected by international terrorism, compared with almost three-quarters of Americans.

“If Europe is starting to look at the world as a more dangerous place, it makes sense that more Europeans would start asking how to deal with it and looking to the United States as a partner,” said John Glenn, director of foreign policy at the German Marshall Fund, who oversaw the survey.

The change was most striking in Germany, where 70 percent of respondents said they feel likely to be affected by international terrorism, an increase of 32 percentage points since 2005.

The change follows a number of reports of planned terror attacks in Germany in recent years, including an incident in July 2006, in which two gas bombs were placed on commuter trains but did not explode. The poll preceded Wednesday’s announcement of the arrest of three Islamic militants in Germany accused of plotting bomb attacks that would have targeted Americans.

The poll found that Europeans and Americans share some other fears as well. In both places, respondents listed energy dependence among the top three threats they felt most likely to be affected by.

Among their worries, 88 percent of Americans cited energy dependence, 80 percent listed an economic downturn and 74 percent said international terrorism. In Europe, global warming was at the top of the list at 85 percent, energy dependence was second at 78 percent and 66 percent of respondents listed global terrorism.

But despite complaints in Europe that the United States has done too little to help combat climate change, 70 percent of Americans polled also listed global warming as a threat likely to affect them.

Among the survey’s other findings:

  • Americans and Europeans both expressed misgivings about a resurgent Russia. Asked about Russia’s behavior toward its neighbors, 69 percent of Americans and 56 percent of Europeans noted concern.
  • Fifty-four percent of Americans and 48 percent of Europeans saw China as more of an economic threat than an opportunity. Half the Americans polled saw China as a military threat, while 32 percent of Europeans did.
  • Turkish respondents expressed a decline in positive feelings toward both the United States and Europe since similar polls in previous years. Forty percent of Turks said they viewed EU membership as a good thing, a drop of 14 percentage points since last year’s survey.

The telephone survey polled 1,000 people each in the United States and 12 European countries: France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria. Each country’s survey had a sampling error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.