How Europeans View their Role in Global Affairs
On June 23, 2016, GMF hosted a roundtable discussion on a recent Pew Research Center survey, examining how Europeans view their position in global affairs. The discussion included remarks from Bruce Stokes, director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center, who presented the findings; Derek Chollet, counselor and senior advisor for security and defense policy at GMF; and Fiona Hill, director and senior fellow of the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution. The discussion was moderated by Stefan Grobe, Washington correspondent of Euronews.
Stokes began the conversation by detailing the survey’s results. He noted the wide diversity in European views in the report’s findings, and suggested there is no truly European point of view. According to Stokes, one of the primary objectives of the survey was to gauge the degree of isolationist sentiment in Europe. A median of 56% surveyed answered that their countries should deal with their “own problems and let other countries deal with their own problems.” While significant, Stokes pointed out that the United States reflected a similar isolationist tendency in another recent survey by the Pew Research Center. Stokes noted this is not a new trend in Europe, claiming that Europe has been more inward-looking since 2010.
Stokes continued by showing that some data demonstrated a high desire for the EU to play a larger role in international affairs across many of those surveyed. To interpret the findings, he suggested the power of a residual idealism surrounding the European Union and the concept that the EU brings peace and prosperity to Europe and the world at large. This finding is in sharp contrast to significant drops in opinion of the EU as an institution, particularly among older generations that are disenchanted with the EU. Stokes argued that this dissatisfaction could stem from feelings that the EU did not effectively handle the influx of refugees, a faltering global economy, and the EU’s response to recent Russian aggression. Stokes spoke about the differences in perception of threat and actual experience, which can cause exaggerated reactions to issues like the refugee crisis.
Hill discussed the relative importance of the European Union to countries like Germany and Spain, who have gained power and influence and benefitted economically and politically as members of the EU. She continued by indicating that countries more conflicted about the EU might belong to the losing side of EU membership. Given this, Hill talked about the potential for Spain as an up-and-coming ally of Germany’s, citing Pew data that suggests Spain acts more like its northern European peers than those along the Mediterranean.
From a U.S. foreign policy perspective, Chollet shifted the conversation to discuss how Germany and France are becoming more ideal foreign policy partners for the United States. He also noted that despite European (and American) unity on identifying the self-proclaimed Islamic State as a top threat, action to double down on the response to that threat is an essential next step. Hill and Chollet also discussed the European attitudes concerning the threat posed by Russia, particularly in regard to the divide between the government, the elites, and the public in terms of reactions to events like the annexation of Crimea.