Are trans-Atlantic tensions starting to ease?

Transatlantic relations have been a bit rocky in recent years with differences over the war in Iraq, the Kyoto treaty on global warming, and the International Criminal Court. Now a new report seeks the opinion of people in twelve European countries on what they see as the main global threats. The German Marshall fund commissioned the report and their Director for Central and Eastern Europe, Pavol Demes, spoke to Anca Dragu about its findings:

Photo: Antonio Melina/ABr
The extremely important threat, as identified in your report, was Islamic fundamentalism. In Slovakia, which is included in the survey, there is no Muslim community. So how do you think Slovaks can express their opinion about Islamic fundamentalism if they haven't experienced it personally?

"Slovak soldiers today are in Iran and Iraq, so through that they are learning much more about countries where Islam or problems related to Islam are a part of that [daily life]. But I don't think that having a Muslim community is the only parameter which is shaping attitudes of people towards this community. I think that attitude is shaped through media. I think it is not related only to direct experience, it is a more complex issue."

Your report concluded that 62 percent of Europeans agree that further enlargement of the EU will promote peace and democracy along its borders. This is in sharp contrast with what has been told about Turkey's membership to the EU, and in sharp contrast with the recent media campaign in the UK against opening the borders to Romanians and Bulgarians. How do you explain this contrast?

"I think this is one of the rather surprising results of this year's annual survey. I think that this opens a completely new theme for public diplomacy and dialogue with citizens in these countries because sometimes someone can see that there are discrepancies between the opinion of political elite and what you find when you actually measure the opinions of ordinary citizens. It requires a look at how the political class is talking to citizens, and how the citizens think about some of these broader issues, EU enlargement in particular."

In your study it was discovered that the percentage of Europeans that have a positive view on US leadership in world affairs decreased from 64 percent in 2002 to 37 percent in 2006. How can you explain this?

"Because US leadership is viewed as the president. If you see the data, if it is a sharp decrease in the positive evaluation of US foreign policy, which is represented by the president, then you have natural decreases in belief in the US leadership in the world."

35 percent of Americans are concerned about the threat posed by growing Chinese military power. In Europe, 37% are worried by the growing Chinese economy. Again, how can you explain the difference?

"When it comes to the view of economic versus military power, there are sharp differences between Europeans and Americans not only vis-à-vis China but also vis-à-vis self perception. For example Americans view themselves as a global power, but a global military power, or are connecting American power with the military power. Europe would like to be a world power but not military but economically. Europeans also think that solutions to problems in different parts of the world are better found through economic rather than military tools."

To what extent is the EU prepared to accept dissidents in its rank and file?

"There are some tendencies of strengthening the role of, let's call it a national element, in trying to find the balance between what's national and what's European. This is a new challenge not only for elites in these countries but also for the European Union's institutions. In the case of Slovakia it was a bit surprising that this rather well defined foreign policy and positive evaluation of Slovakia on the international scene, has started to be challenged a little bit today because of this discourse that started between Slovakia and Hungary. All countries are members of the European Union which has experience with all kinds of ups and downs in relations. But the EU is capable of helping its members in their discourse and finding a way to deal with the problem in a European and civilised manner."