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Closer or more independent partnership with US?

In line with the growing disaffection mentioned above, views changed both in Europe and in the United States, about the role that each side should play. Of course, these are complex issues that are difficult to tackle with survey data, and given the low level of interest in foreign policy, results are often doubtful in content and shaky in stability. A second way to look at the problem is to see whether Europeans want to see in the future a closer partnership between Europe and the United States or rather prefer each side taking a more independent approach in dealing with world problems.21 Figure 3.5 describes, for a much shorter period of time than in previous figures, the trend in answers to the following question: 'Do you think that the partnership in security and diplomatic affairs between the United States and the European Union should become closer, should remain about the same or should the [European Union/United States] take a more independent approach from the [United States/European Union]?'

The first time this question was asked by Transatlantic Trends was in 2004, amidst the Iraq war and in one of the most acrimonious periods in Transatlantic relations, as previous data have abundantly shown. In that year, there was a clear, and remarkable, difference between Europe and the United States. In the United States, a clear majority was in support of a closer partnership with Europe. In 2004, 60 percent of the American public chose that alternative and only one fifth of the sample (20 percent) suggested the US should take a more independent approach. These numbers declined between 2004 and now, in part, one can surmise, in reciprocation of the cool attitudes by the Europeans, but majorities

Partnership closer or more independent, in US and EU-7? (% answering 'Take more independent approach')

Figure 3.5 Partnership closer or more independent, in US and EU-7? (% answering 'Take more independent approach')

Source: Transatlantic Trend Survey, various years.

Question wording: 'Do you think that the partnership between the US and the EU should become closer, should remain about the same or should the [EUROPEAN UNION/UNITED STATES] take a more independent approach from the United States/European Union in security and diplomatic affairs?' In some years question wording was slightly changed for assessing impact of different stimuli. The data here reported collapse all splits.

or solid pluralities over the years covered by this survey supported a closer partnership between the two sides of the Atlantic. Thus, in 2010, 45 percent thought so in the US, while one third (30 percent) thought that the US should take a more independent approach.

For Europe, however, the pattern is remarkably different. A majority of Europeans opted in 2004 for a more independent course of action, with 51 percent arguing that way. In the five years since then these numbers declined progressively and steadily, however, from 57 percent to 40 percent in 2010, with the European public divided between two groups of comparable size. Incidentally, this brings the assessment of the desirability of close partnership to the same level in Europe and the US.

But what kind of more independent approach do the Europeans have in mind when they answer so? It is hard to look into people's minds, especially on topics not regularly absorbing much of the attention of the mass public, but several questions allow us to peruse the topic in some depth. A way of looking at what Europeans have in mind when they think that Europe should take a more independent approach is whether they think of a future role of the EU similar to that played now by the US or, rather, a completely different one, and then which one? Americans, like Europeans started to do earlier, began to believe firmly that the role of the EU on the world scene should become more prominent, but how this translates in both institutional and policy terms is much less clear. A question was asked in three consecutive years in TTS about whether the US should remain the only superpower or whether Europe should become 'a superpower like the US.'

In 2002, a majority of 52 percent of the Americans still thought that the United States 'should remain the only superpower.' This was a point on which Europeans and Americans clearly diverged, even though the survey found significant differences among Europeans themselves as well, suggesting that there was no clear consensus on these issues. Europeans already in 2002 indicated clearly that they would like the EU to become another superpower, and this feeling became even stronger since then. Sixty-five percent of Europeans said in 2002 that the EU should become a superpower like the United States, while only 14 percent endorsed the view that the United States should remain the only superpower. At the time, only in the case of Germany did a plurality (48 percent) rather than a majority endorse the idea of the EU becoming a superpower. In all other cases this idea was supported by clear majorities, ranging from 56 percent of the British to an overwhelming 91 percent of the French. However, in two countries - Germany and the Netherlands - a quarter of respondents in 2002 volunteered the response 'No country should be a superpower'. These outcomes were confirmed by the Eurobarometers 59 and 63 (respectively 2003 and 2005) that showed that over the years around 80 percent supported the notion that 'European Union foreign policy should be independent of United States foreign policy', admittedly a different question but one that also hints at the notion that the EU should play an autonomous role in the world.

If superpower it should be, the one most Europeans had in mind, then and now, is however, primarily an economic power, which cooperates rather than competes with the US. Moreover, over the years only pluralities were also prepared to increase military spending should this be necessary. It is interesting in this connection, however, that those who preferred to reduce defense spending were generally not 'free riders' who would gladly profit from American efforts without sharing the burden. Over the years, the view that Europe should also become a superpower (whatever this might imply) became increasingly shared by the Americans (the numbers increased from 33 to 47 percent) and in line with this, the numbers of those who thought that the US should remain the only superpower decreased from 56 to 36. Americans and Europeans in this respect became more similar. Moreover, American proponents of a larger European role also felt by a very large majority that this should be so even if the EU might sometimes oppose US policies.

From their perspective, when Europeans think about a more prominent European role they do only partly aspire to a role that is more independent of the US. In 2007 (small) majorities in all European countries surveyed felt that EU should address international threats together with the US rather than independently (with the exception of France and Turkey). Comparable results were obtained in 2008. Over the years, very large and stable majorities (and this was even truer for the Americans22) also subscribed to the statement: 'When our country acts on a national security issue, it is critical that we do so together with our closest allies.'

On both sides of the Atlantic there are also some other reservations about their partners, however. As noted already above, support for a leading role of the US has declined considerably since 2003. Some Americans also feel uneasy, however, with the idea of Europe becoming a superpower. Both sides have differing, even sometimes contradictory views, one might surmise, on what a superpower is meant to be. If Europeans want Europe to be a superpower, they say they want it to cooperate rather than compete with the United States and prefer to put more emphasis on the non-military dimensions of power. Americans, on their part, seem wary about this alleged European preference and rather want Europeans to share the military burden of maintaining order in the world (55 percent wanted it in 2002 to increase its military power and a majority also agreed that one of the benefits of NATO is that it allows for sharing the military burden (TTS, 2005). At the same time they show hesitancy about Europe becoming too strong in the process. A majority of Americans also agreed, however, in 2005 that Europe should concentrate on economic rather than military power. More on these differences concerning the role of military power follows below.

Americans not only display a greater enthusiasm for a more assertive EU role, but also perceive the EU's influence as already quite strong and rising. Asked to rate how much influence the EU has in the world on a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 meaning extremely influential, the average American response in 2002 was 6.7 (the European's average was 7.1). Of the rest of the countries only Great Britain (7.0) and China (6.8) were seen as more influential. A clear majority of Americans also expected that the EU's influence would rise in the near future. Sixty percent said the EU would be more influential in ten years' time (CCFR/GMFUS, Worldviews 2002).

Americans also seem ready to show some deference toward the EU and give it a more significant role in important negotiations. For instance, 70 percent of Americans agreed with the statement that 'When dealing with common problems, the US and the European Union should be more willing to make decisions jointly, even if this means that the US as well as Europe will sometimes have to go along with a policy that is not its first choice' and 27 percent disagreed (CCFR/GMFUS, Worldviews 2002).

 
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