The Paris office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States presented the official results of the 2012 Transatlantic Trends on Wednesday September 12th, at the George Marshall Center of the U.S. Embassy (Hôtel de Talleyrand). H.E. Charles H. Rivkin, Ambassador of the U.S. to France and Monaco; H.E. Pierre Vimont, Executive Secretary General of the European External Action Service; and Edward Cody, Washington Post Paris Bureau Chief discussed the results with GMF Paris office director Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer.
Ambassador Rivkin’s keynote speech highlighted the very positive results of the survey on the state of U.S.-European and U.S.-French relations and specifically mentioned the outstandingly favorable French sentiment towards the United States, President Barack Obama and his handling of international affairs. The Ambassador also pointed out the Transatlantic Trends results are a reliable source of information for policy-makers and that they reflected the central role that GMF plays in fostering transatlantic cooperation.
According to Edward Cody, the Transatlantic Trends show the sheer agreement that exists between both sides of the Atlantic on virtually all major foreign policy issues. The relative consensus over the case of the war in Iraq, which used to embody the gap separating American from European worldviews, was considered particularly striking. The convergence of views regarding the responsibility to protect, the intervention in Libya, the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and the prudence vis-à-vis Syria, were seen as important signs of rapprochement between transatlantic opinions. Edward Cody interpreted the complete switch regarding the so-called ‘rebalancing’ to Asia of the United States in favor of the strengthening of the traditional transatlantic alliance as a possible result of the large media coverage in America of the crisis of the Eurozone.
Pierre Vimont contrasted what he described as a reasonable and realist public opinion vis-à-vis the economic crisis and European institutions, with the recent elections that took place in Europe signaling the rise of populism and to a certain extent, of anti-European feeling. In this respect, the results of the study sent a reassuring message. He also saw the Transatlantic Trends as a sign of the increasing divides in Europe between North and South, and pointed out to the strong disapproval of the Eurozone in Southern European countries, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s handling of the economic crisis and, to a lesser extent, of European institutions. He insisted on the necessity for better communication at the European level in a time of economic crisis. Slightly nuancing Edward Cody’s statement, Pierre Vimont underlined the persisting division between the U.S. and the E.U. over their perception of military force and in particular of China as a military threat, even though in practice this dichotomy was less true.
The presentation of these results was also the occasion to debate the state of transatlantic relations with the audience. The questions raised the skepticism of Polish opinion towards cooperation with the United States, and the strong disapproval of the Italians vis-à-vis the European Union and its effects on the economy. The speakers were also asked to discuss the gap that exists between the general European understanding of American affairs and the perceived limited interest in the U.S. for European issues.
The presentation of the results was followed by a friendly cocktail in the chambers of the George Marshall Center, where an exhibit about the history of the Marshall Plan was on display. This evening was also the opportunity to honor the 40th anniversary of GMF and the 30th anniversary of the Marshall Memorial Fellowship. A large number of fellows were present in attendance, along with about 150 officials, academics, researchers, and members of civil society.