CEE letter strikes a chord
Central and Eastern European leaders' letter to President Obama provoked a strong reaction throughout the region, showing the depth and potency of the underlying sentiment. The US administration would be wrong to ignore it.
Yesterday a letter written by a group of prominent Central European politicians and analysts was presented at the German Marshall Fund of the United States and was printed in the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza. The letter, addressed to President Obama, argued for a renewal of relations between the US and Central and Eastern Europe based on common commitment to democratic values and common interests in Europe and beyond.
Four years ago Alexandr Vondra, one of the authors, and Ron Asmus wrote about the origins and the future of Atlanticism in Central and Eastern Europe. They questioned whether the region will remain atlanticist in the years to come. They argued that first and foremost this will be determined by America's behavior and policy. An America that is open to people from the region, whose foreign policy is based on values and commitment to allies was likely to keep this part of Europe firmly in the Atlanticist camp. But an America flirting with realpolitik or unilateralism would soon brew troubles, even in this historically pro-American part of the world.
Over the last five years, GMF's Transatlantic Trends has shown a steady decline of public attitudes in the region towards the US and its leadership in the world. This decline has been significantly steeper in central and eastern Europe than in the western part of the continent. The belief that NATO is still essential has also sharply declined, even in countries like Poland, where fewer people now hold this attitude toward NATO than in France. Last year's survey showed intense popularity of then Senator Obama in Europe. In September, when GMF releases this year's Transatlantic Trends, we will see if these attitudes translated into improved transatlantic relations and whether the new administration has been as warmly received in Central and Eastern Europe, as in Western Europe. Despite these worrying trends, the public opinion data also clearly shows that people in this part of Europe want more rather than less cooperation with the U.S. The two countries where this sentiment is still the strongest are Poland and Romania.
The letter to the President Obama should not be seen as criticism of the current administration. Both the elites and the public in Central and Eastern Europe know that it's too soon to judge the new US President and understand that he has inherited a very complex set of global challenges. The public opinion surveys also clearly shows that the troubles started well ahead of President Obama taking office. The letter is an invitation to renew relations between America and some of her staunchest allies. Given that this call is firmly rooted in the attitudes of not only elites, but the Central and Eastern Europe public, it should not be ignored. The enthusiastic reaction to the letter's message throughout the region makes it all the more likely that the administration will hear its message. Modest investment and the course correction suggested by the authors could go a long way in rejuvenating the partnership between Central and Eastern Europe and America.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.