Mending Relations: America’s Image in Europe

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

With US presidential elections looming, it is necessary to manage the expectation of change in US foreign policy to heal the transatlantic rift, says John Glenn of the German Marshall Fund of the US in a March 2008 paper, using the 2007 Transatlantic Trends survey to gather opinions on both sides of the Atlantic.

Public debate has been raging on both sides of the Atlantic over a number of US foreign policy issues, including CIA prisons in Europe, continued Iraqi violence and human rights abuses in Guantanamo Bay, observes Glenn. These topics, which have entrenched a negative view of the Bush Administration into the minds of most Europeans, deserve our “concern and attention”, he says. 

However, while expectations for change are rising among Europeans and Americans, they are unlikely to be met on either side, claims Glenn. According to the survey, Europeans expect a more multilateral US following the elections, while Americans want Europe to get more involved in solving common problems like terrorism and nuclear proliferation. 

That is why Glenn suggests that the need to manage these expectations for change will become the principal objective of the new policymakers in Washington. Consequently, the main question asked of the US will not be what policies it pursues, but how it intends to pursue them, he adds. 

Another interesting point raised in the paper is the marked difference between Europe’s leaders and public opinion. MEPs, EU officials and the European public were asked whether US leadership was desirable and the public gave just half as many positive responses as EU officials and MEPs. Glenn says this is because Europe’s elected leaders are in favour of closer relations with the US, like Merkel, Sarkozy, Blair and now Brown – but this has not transpired into the public domain. 

The survey shows that European anti-Americanism stems mainly from anti-Bush feelings. Its results illustrate a European public dislike for American foreign policy, but also the US as a whole as a symbol of globalisation. Quoting Pew’s Global Attitude Project, Glenn claims there is indeed a “global backlash against the spread of American ideas and customs”. But there must be a careful distinction between general anti-Americanism and disagreement with what the US is doing in the world today, he says. 

Glenn lists the mismanagement of the Iraq war, the Guantanamo Bay crisis, US non-participation in the Kyoto Treaty and Bush himself as the main reasons behind the transatlantic rift. 

For the author, one area of convergence in transatlantic attitudes is the view of Russia, where both sides are expressing concern over Russia’s role as an energy provider. This, Glenn argues, shows the fallout over the Iraq war may not be as critical as first feared. Indeed, over 60% of Europeans and Americans questioned believe they share enough common values. 

As for the use of force in foreign policy, Glenn uses Kagan’s argument that the US is the only superpower and thus has a different perception of the world due to its huge military capacity, making transatlantic cooperation complicated. However, a large majority of Europeans and Americans believe that economic power is more important than military power. 

Glenn concludes that although there will almost certainly be a ‘honeymoon’ period for the next US president, future prospects will depend on how the US deals with the Middle East. 

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