Ties that Bind?
This year, the German Marshall Fund’s Transatlantic Trends poll revealed a staggering drop in German support for U.S. President Barack Obama. Though he still enjoys the backing of a majority, it’s a majority that is quickly shrinking: Approval of his handling of foreign policy dropped from a high of 92 percent in 2009 to 56 percent in June of this year, losing 20 percentage points over the past year alone. American favorability took a hit as well: Fifty-eight percent of Germans, ten percentage points lower than in the previous year, said they had a favorable opinion of the United States.
Perhaps most worrisome, 57 percent of Germans, the first majority of the Obama presidency, said that in international security and diplomacy, the European Union should take an approach that is more independent from the United States – at a time when coordination, whether on Russia, Iran or the Israel-Palestine conflict, is essential.
The reason is hardly a mystery. The continuing National Security Agency scandal, which began in June 2013 with Edward Snowden’s revelation of the clandestine PRISM program, struck a nerve in Germany. Even if Germans did not place a particular significance on issues of privacy and data security – and, for a number of historical reasons, they do, having enshrined the inviolability of personal correspondence in their Basic Law – an unspoken taboo was broken when it came to light in October that the program had monitored German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal mobile phone. The chancellor’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, called it a “grave breach of trust.”
Josh Raisher is a Program Coordinator for Transatlantic Trends with the German Marshall Fund of the United States in Washington, DC.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.