Europeans ‘no longer trust US on security’ – #ECFR report

| September 11, 2019

Three years into the Trump presidency, and just days after Mike Pompeo’s visit to Brussels, most Europeans believe they that they can no longer rely on the US to guarantee their security. New polling reveals that trust in the US has fallen away, and that Europeans are, now, increasingly looking to the EU to defend their foreign policy interests, according to a major report, published today (11 September), by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).  

The report, entitled Give the People What They Want: Popular Demand for a Strong European Foreign Policy’ and based on interviews with 60,000 people across 14 EU member states,also found that majorities of Europeans want the EU leadership to prevent further enlargement of the bloc, and demand a pan-European response to their security, and fears about climate change and migration.  Above all, Europeans want a more self-sufficient EU that avoids fights that are not of its making, stands up to other continent-sized powers, and tackles crises that affect its interests.

The findings and analysis of this polling-backed report come at a crucial juncture for Europe, with European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen set to present her political team later today,and a series of potentially disruptive national elections scheduled, in Austria and Poland, this autumn. The report’s release also comes against a backdrop of escalating trade disputes between China and the US; emerging evidence of Russian interference in western elections; and the potential unravelling of international agreements on global warming and nuclear disarmament. These are issues that are expected to dominate proceedings at this month’s United Nations General Assembly meeting, in New York.

The study argues that the view, shared among Europe’s leaders, that increasingly nationalistic voters will not tolerate collective EU foreign policy, is outdated.  The ECFR’s polling suggests that voters in the bloc’s member states are receptive to the idea of “strategic sovereignty” – i.e. centralizing power in key areas – if the EU can show itself competent and efficient. The report suggests that, while there may not exist a qualified majority in the EU-27 across all areas of foreign policy, there are exceptions, and areas of unanimity – on issues such as defence and security, migration, and climate change – which the EU could harness and take forward in the coming years.

While the public support the idea of the EU becoming a cohesive global actor, there is also a growing divergence between the Europeans and their elected Governments on issues ranging from trade, Europe’s future relationship with the US, and the EU accession of countries of the Western Balkans. With such a chasm of opinion, there is a risk that voters could retract their support for European action, which they offered in recent European Parliament and national elections.

Europeans are yet to be convinced that the EU can change from its current course of inaction and prevarication, the report claims. The framework’s new team, comprising Joseph Borrell, as High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Ursula von der Leyen, as President-elect of the European Commission, must accept this reality and use their offices to relaunch the EU’s foreign strategy, in line with public demand.

There is a risk, it warns, after the unexpected high turn-out in the European elections and the strong performance of nationalist parties, such as Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France and Matteo Salvini’s Lega party in Italy, leaders in Brussels will rest on their laurels. “They should remember that before the vote three quarters of Europeans felt either that their national political system, their European political system, or both, were broken” it says: “unless Europe creates emotionally resonant policies in the next five years, an electorate convinced that the political system is broken is unlikely to give the EU the benefit of the doubt a second time,” the report states.

In its analysis, the ECFR report finds: 

  • Europeans want the EU to become a strong, independent, non-confrontational actor that is powerful enough to avoid taking sides or being at the mercy of outside powers. In potential conflicts between the US and Russia, a majority of voters in virtually every country would prefer for the EU to remain neutral, pursuing a middle way between these competing powers.
  • Europeans are wary of China and its growing influence in the world– with no more than 8% of voters in the polled member states thinking that the EU should side with Beijing rather than Washington in the event of a US-China conflict. The overwhelming desire of publics in every member state is to stay neutral – a position held by nearly three quarters (73%) of voters in Germany and over 80% of voters in Greece and Austria.
  • Europeans are generally cool on the idea of EU enlargement, with voters in countries such as Austria (44%), Denmark (37%),France (42%), Germany (46%),and the Netherlands (40%), hostile to Western Balkan countries joining the EU. Only in Romania, Poland and Spain is there support from more than 30% of the public for all of these countries to gain accession.
  • Europeans want EU action on climate change and migration. More than half the public in each country surveyed – aside from the Netherlands – think climate change should be prioritised over most other issues. Meanwhile, European voters’ favour greater efforts to police the EU’s external borders, and at least half of voters in every member state favour increasing economic aid to developing countries to discourage migration. Europeans also agree, overwhelmingly, that conflict has been a major driver of the continent’s migration struggles – with voters in 12 of the 14 holding the view that the EU should have done more to address the Syria crisis from 2014.
  • Overall, Europeans place more trust in the EU than their national governments to protect their interests against other global powers– although, in numerous member states, many voters trust neither the US or the EU (in Italy, Germanyand Francethis was the view of around four in ten voters; in the Czech Republic and Greece, it was the view of more than half of them).Voters were most likely to trust the US over the EU in Poland – but even here this was the position of less than a fifth of voters.
  • Voters are sceptical of the EU’s current ability to protect their economic interests in trade wars. The largest proportion holding this view are in Austria (40%), the Czech Republic (46%), Denmark (34%), the Netherlands (36%), Slovakia (36%), and Sweden (40%). Less than 20 percent of voters in each member state feel that their country’s interests are well protected from aggressive Chinese competitive practices. Nonetheless, they have mixed views on whether the EU or their national government should address this problem.
  • On Iran, the majority of Europeans (57%) are supportive the EU’s efforts to maintain the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action(JCPOA) ‘nuclear deal’ with Iran. Support for the deal is strongest in Austria (67%)and weakest in France (47%).
  • Large proportions of voters believe that Russia is attempting to destabilize political structures in Europe, and that governments are inadequately protecting their country against foreign interference.The latter feeling is shared in Denmark, (44%), France (40%), Germany (38%),Italy (42%), Poland (48%), Romania (56%), Slovakia (46%), Spain (44%) and Sweden (50%).
  • On Russia, more than half of European voters in each country viewed the current EU sanctions policy as either justifiably “balanced”or not tough enough – apart from in Austria, Greece, Slovakia.Support for a tougher policy was strongest in Poland (55%) and weakest in Slovakia (19%).
  • Europe’s voters are split on whether their country should invest in NATO or EU defence capabilities. Among supporters of parties in Government,La République En Marche! voters in France have the strongest preference for defence investment through the EU (78%) rather than NATO (8%) while Law and Justice Party voters in Poland have the strongest preference for NATO (56%) compared to EU defence capacities (17%).
  • Voters believe that if the EU broke up tomorrow one of the key losses would be European states’ ability to co-operate on security and defence, and to act as a continent-sized power in contests with global players such as China, Russia, and the United States.This feeling is shared by 22% in France and 29% in Germany.


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