OPINION | With a change in presidency in the US, there has also been an attitudinal shift in Europe

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US President Joe Biden. (Mandel Ngan, AFP)
US President Joe Biden. (Mandel Ngan, AFP)

A survey across 11 European countries has revealed that European citizens are not willing to support Washington in potential international disputes, writes Azhar Azam.

In a fresh coup against US global integrity, role, and reliability, a new study by the European Council of Foreign Relations (ECFR) found that after former US president Donald Trump's chaotic and importunate four-year term, Europeans were not willing to support Washington in potential international disputes.

Only 10% saw America as a "reliable" security partner in the event of a crisis.

A survey of 15 000 people across 11 European countries, including France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, and others, further discovered more than 60% of Europeans thought America's political system was "broken" - and it was unlikely the US would regain its world leadership, or that President Joe Biden would be able to halt his country's decline on the world stage.

Roughly half of the respondents felt their governments should remain neutral in any conflict between China and the US, whereas up to 79% of respondents in France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain said China will unseat America to become the world's leading superpower within the next decade.

The poll findings indicate the Europeans are wary of the US's cavalier and high-handed attitude toward them and foresee its role shrinking in global politics. It also describes a strong displeasure of the US's strategy towards China, forcing the regional states to decouple from and contain China in fear of losing its influence.

No appetite for a new cold war

Shockingly, for the US, European citizens seemed unconcerned with the Washington-pushed perspective of a new cold war with China. The dramatic shift in Europeans' threat perception showed they were quickly understanding American mentality and responding to the adversarial nature of its warlike mindset.

Unlike the cold war era, when Berlin felt threatened by invasion and wedded to the Atlantic alliance, the study noted the manufacturing heavyweight seems to be caught up with French notion for European defence integration. Germany's belief in defending itself, as well as half of Germans, don't see American military power as an existential guarantee for them; it means the US's bubble threat of foreign military intervention has been blasted.

It would appear citizens in Europe want their leaders to adopt an independent China policy over scathing differences with the US. By implying Europe's transatlantic policy in the coming years should be driven by growing economic ties with China, they have called upon the governments to weigh up their economic interests in dealing with the emerging global leader.

The results echoed last year's ECFR survey outcomes when most of the European Union (EU) citizens said they can no longer rely on the US security guarantee and the bloc should remain neutral in conflicts between the US and China or Russia.

READ | John Matisonn: Joe Biden, China's Xi and South Africa's opportunity

Washington has been mounting pressure on Europe to form a united front against Beijing. But, in a big surprise, the latest poll showed Europeans were not keen on getting back to a bipolar world, in which the West would face off against China and its allies as it once did against the Soviet Union.

Most EU nations considered Germany as a more important country to have a good relationship with than the US, and only 23% said their country should take the US's side against Russia.

Berlin's economic significance, cooperation in building the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline with Moscow, Russians' positive views about Europe and vice versa – together with Germany's bilateral trade of 206 billion euros in 2019 with China, making the latter the "most important trading partner" for the fourth consecutive year and the China-EU recent investment deal – could set the tone for a lot louder China-Russia-EU relations in the next few years.

In December 2019, the US Senate approved sanctions against companies and governments working on the North Stream 2 pipeline for supplying Russian gas to Germany. The outright breach of Germany sovereignty pressed German Foreign Minister Heiko Mass to warn America not to meddle in European energy policy and evade, "... the move to influence autonomous decisions that are made in Europe".

Russian gas project halted

Work on the $11 billion project, which Germany wanted to resume immediately, faces suspension or even cancellation as the new US embargos bite the Russian pipe-laying ship Fortuna and its owner. While Berlin took the curb with “regret,” Washington’s ulterior motive to sell American liquid natural gas and prevent Moscow from topping US domination across the European peninsula could impair Biden’s desire to ameliorate a transatlantic relationship and may expose deeper cracks in alliance.

It is still unclear how newly elected President Joe Biden, who opposed the project as American Vice-President, would tackle German gripes. But if the new US President keeps Trump’s policy afloat, it would fuel more resentment in Europe, particularly Germany which is looking to phase out the use of coal and nuclear energy for low-cost Russian gas through the Baltic Sea to fight climate change, coincidentally another of President Biden’s key promises.

Under Trump, the White House eroded all global mellifluous efforts to jointly rout the virus and mitigate its spillover effects on the economy. President Biden has committed to restore the US international leadership role, credibility and influence by strengthening alliances with Europe and other partners and reverse the Trumpian unilateralism.

But unless the Biden administration steps back from shaping Europe’s economic and trade policies about China and Russia for the US individualistic interests and rolls out an inclusive vision of cooperation and globalisation to embrace the whole world, not just Europe or US allies – the revival of America as a global leader and credible partner will be strewn with pitfalls.

Azhar Azam writes on economy, geopolitical issues and regional conflicts and is an opinion contributor to CGTNNews24, The Mail & Guardian, New Straits Times and The Express Tribune (partner of The International New York Times).

*Want to respond to the columnist? Send your letter or article to opinions@news24.com with your name and town or province. You are welcome to also send a profile picture. We encourage a diversity of voices and views in our readers' submissions and reserve the right not to publish any and all submissions received.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

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