The Concave Mirror: The US and Europe Look at Each Other

On September 29, 2004 in cooperation with the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the American Council on Germany, the Institute organized a conference entitled “The Concave Mirror: The US and Europe Look at Each Other.” The conference presented and discussed the results of the latest public opinion survey undertaken by the German Marshall Fund during June 2004 of 11,000 Americans and Europeans. Following in the footsteps of Transatlantic Trends 2003 and Worldviews 2002, this year’s survey examined European and American attitudes toward pressing transatlantic topics such as terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and threat perception; willingness to use force; the role of the United Nations and other international institutions; the War in Iraq; Turkey and the European Union; and the overall state of US-European relations.

While both Americans and Europeans believe they share enough common values to cooperate, the survey revealed growing divisions between the two continents, in particular, European skepticism toward US leadership and extreme disapproval of US foreign policy. Perhaps the most interesting thing revealed by the survey was the deep divisiveness within American society between self-identified Republicans and Democrats, with Democrats largely in agreement with Europeans on most issues and Republicans increasingly willing to act unilaterally, without a UN mandate, for example.

Following introductions by Irena Grudzinska Gross of the Institute for Human Sciences, Marc Redlich of the American Council on Germany, and Wolfgang Vorwerk, Germany’s new consul General in Boston, and a presentation of the data by Ron Asmus, Senior Transatlantic Fellow, German Marshall Fund of the United States, National Public Radio journalist Gail Harris moderated a panel discussion in which Asmus was joined by Laurence Bagot, journalist and 2005 Nieman Fellow at Harvard University; Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger, Foreign Policy Editor at the Franfurter Allgemeine Zeitung; and Jim Smith, Foreign Editor at the Boston Globe. Several interesting observations were made. Laurence Bagot, representing France, noted that the nations of the European Union have been in a negotiating process for nearly 40 years, that multilateralism is, consequently, part and parcel of their every day experience. European unification is the growing result of a difficult and rewarding process in which the US is not engaged. She also pointed out that from a French perspective, disagreements need not be perceived as threats to the friendship between teh two nations, a sharp contrast to the „with us or against us“ rhetoric of the Bush administration.

The biggest question to emerge from the discussion was how the upcoming Presidential election in the US might alter the pattern of estrangement marked by the survey. Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger voiced the opinion that the two continents were already drifting apart, and that the election of George Bush merely precipated the break. Jim Smith observed that much of the hostility toward America was in fact directed toward an administration of questionable legitimacy. He worried that a re-election of President Bush would signal an affirmation of his neo-Conservative agenda by the American people and questioned if, as a result, European anti-Americanism would be projected more generally onto the American public.

This discussion aired on WBUR’s “World of Ideas” program on October 3, 2004; we are grateful to WBUR for making the recording available to EU for You.

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