On Thursday, June 30, 2016, The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) in collaboration with Chatham House, the European External Action Service, and Microsoft hosted Bruce Stokes, director for Global Economic Attitudes at the Pew Research Centre, and Alfredo Conte, head of the Strategic Planning Division at the EEAS, for an interactive discussion about the changing role of the EU and the U.S. in the world. The discussion was moderated by Ian Lesser, senior director for Foreign and Security Policy and executive director of GMF’s Brussels office.
Stokes summarized the findings of a new Pew Research Centre survey of ten European nations in times of growing uncertainty. Even though overall attitudes are negative toward the EU, with Europeans being frustrated by the way the EU handles its multiple crises - economic stagnation, the refugee crisis, and geopolitical tensions with Russia - a clear-cut majority wants the EU to play a more active role on the world stage. Stokes explained this paradox as a weariness of the mismanagements of EU politicians rather than Europeans giving up on the EU itself. Commenting on transatlantic perceptions, he highlighted a common concern of the public for terrorism as well as refugees, revealing a “mismatch between perceptions and reality” as the United States remains far from the front line of the refugee crisis.
The findings of the Pew Research survey resonate with the recently adopted EU Global Strategy, which defines the guiding principles needed to adapt EU foreign policy to a society in flux. While the EU aims at working toward common goals, it must “embrace diversity” and put the emphasis on flexibility as a guideline to EU engagement on the international stage.
With regards to populist trends on both sides of the Atlantic, Stokes highlighted an equally inward-looking attitude of Europeans and U.S. respondents, which is “a common issue to deal with in foreign policy”, he said The panellists however agreed on the existence of a gap between policymakers and a public that feels overwhelmed by rapid globalization, which is fuelling isolationist tendencies.
The discussion was followed by a question and answer session with the audience consisting of representatives from EU institutions, think tanks, foundations, academia, and the media. Participants agreed with Stokes that “good public policy flows from good information,” and followed up with questions on the role of new technologies in fuelling a feeling of “world disorder.” Despite the recent British referendum result, the panel concluded that the relationship between the EU and the U.K. would prevail.