Transatlantic Chasm Not So Wide After All | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 11.09.2002
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Transatlantic Chasm Not So Wide After All

Despite frostier-than-usual relations between the United States and Europe, the people of both continents seem to be closer than ever in the way they see the world, says a recent study.


The events of September 11 both bound and drove America and Europe apart

"We’re all Americans" screamed the editorial in the Italian daily, Corriere della Sera on September 12, 2001, a day after the terrorist attacks in America shook the world.

That statement soon became a catch phrase to express solidarity with the United States and was picked up the media, intellectuals and authors in Europe in the following weeks and months.

The flood of pictures and footage of the wreckage of the World Trade Center and grieving Americans were accompanied by an unprecedented outpouring of European empathy and the readiness to help America in every way possible to nab the perpetrators.

A different world a year later

One year on, things appear quite different.

The spontaneous rush of solidarity has waned, European editorials are increasingly critical of American policy, the war on terror is warily spoken about and European and American politicians seem to be speaking different languages.

At a political level, the transatlantic relationship is said to be at an all-time low.

Study provides silver lining in gloomy scenario

But while politicians and diplomats in both continents may be locking horns over thorny issues, ordinary Europeans and Americans are in broad agreement when it comes to the war on terrorism, Iraq and a host of international issues.

Those are the results of a comprehensive survey of European and American public opinion conducted by the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations.

The aim was to find out how ordinary Americans and Europeans looked at the world and at each other after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Called "Worldviews 2002", the study involved 3,000 telephone interviews in the United States and in the six European countries of Britain, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Poland and Germany. More than 9,000 Europeans and Americans were surveyed.

Consensus on US foreign policy

While 55 percent of Europeans believe that US foreign policy is partly to blame for the Sept. 11 attacks, a slightly higher majority (59 percent) of Europeans believe the US reaction since the attacks was to protect the United States from further attacks, rather than to impose their will around the globe.

Interestingly, the study discovered that Americans were almost as critical of certain aspects of US foreign policy as their European counterparts.

Europeans gave the Bush administration low marks for its handling of the Arab-Israeli conflict (a mere 20 percent rate it as "excellent" or "good"). Just 21 percent said the same of the US handling of the situation in Iraq. At the same time, Americans gave its government only slightly higher marks for the same issues.

Seeing eye to eye over Iraq

Despite media reports of transatlantic differences over the issue of a military strike against Iraq, the study found that the populaces on both sides of the Atlantic have very similar concerns regarding Iraq.

Both consider Iraq to be a top international threat and view it unfavourably. Strikingly, 60 percent of the Europeans polled and 65 percent of the Americans say the US should only invade Iraq with UN approval and the support of its allies.

A UN mandate was also decisive when it came to Europeans’ support for their country’s participation.

Surprisingly, the study shows that Europeans, who are often criticised for shirking away from substantial military spending, are willing in principle to use troops or force in a broad range of circumstances, though they give higher priority to international and humanitarian goals than Americans.

We like each other but not Iraq

Perhaps most importantly, the study shows that Americans and Europeans have a strong affinity for each other and a similar perception of what "friendship" means.

Americans and Europeans showed similar likes and dislikes when it came to rating their feelings for other countries on a scale of zero to 100. For instance, American citizens gave the Germans 61 points, the Germans, in return, gave the Americans 63 points.

Iraq was at the bottom of both American (23) and European (25) thermometers. The greatest disparity between the two is over Israel, with Americans rating it as high as 55 points, and the Europeans a mere 38 points.

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