Europe prepares for life without America: the US cannot be trusted, they feel
European Union’s investment deal with China, leaving the US in the lurch, is a tectonic shift in international relations
In the entire history of Transatlantic relationship following the WW II and the Marshall Plan, Europe has never gone behind the back of the United States and made a diplomatic move, however symbolic or inconsequential that move be.
Never before late December of 2020, that is. As the then President-elect Joe Biden was busy with the arduous process of selecting his cabinet nominees, European Union under the tutelage of Frau Merkel finalised and delivered the “Investment Deal” with the People Republic of China. Washington was left, proverbially, stunned.
This unusual show of sovereignty and independence of foreign policy by the European Union might have left the United States holding the can but this was a long-time coming. The European political class is fed-up of playing hired guns for the Americans and saw this opportunity to go one up on the Americans. European Union, quite rightly, calculated that the kind of access China is granting them is a one-off opportunity and if they actively side with the US, they will likely harm their already dire economic prospects to a point of no return.
Therefore, not only did it not respect the request made by DC through back-channels to wait and mount a unified challenge to China, but it also closed the deal before the formal inauguration of Joe Biden so as not to offer the US a chance to sabotage the deal in any way. The clarity of thought among the European political class is refreshing but highly bewildering. That is before you take a peep into the prevailing public opinion.
Turns out, it is not just the European political class but the Europe itself that has started to take a long-awaited cynical view of the shenanigans of its cousin across
the pond. European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), one of Europe’s most prestigious Think Tanks, has come up with a very comprehensive survey that gives us a window inside the minds of average Europeans.
The survey summarises that a clear majority of Europeans, though happy at Biden’s victory, now think that he will be unable to help the US mount a comeback hitherto pre-eminent global leader. It also suggests that the majority of Europeans in almost every country polled bar a couple also believe that the political system in the States is fundamentally broken, and that Europe must not depend on the US to defend it.
A clear majority of Europeans also believe that China will surpass the US in this decade itself when it comes to power projection and thus wants their home country to stay neutral in the coming full-spectrum conflict between the two. Do also remember that this when we are in the thick of a pandemic when China’s image is at probably at its nadir.
If you closely follow the Transatlantic Relationship, you would know that this is what we call a tectonic shift.
Delving further into the survey, it becomes clear that while some nations in Central Europe—especially those under the helm of the Right-wing governments—still appear to be sitting on the proverbial fence; the sentiments in others have started to solidify. 32 per cent of all respondents maintain that after voting for Trump in 2016, the US can’t be trusted. Only in Hungary and Poland do the significant majority doesn’t subscribe to this view.
Similarly, only in Poland and Hungary do the majority of respondents don’t believe that the US’ political system is beyond repair. Do remember that Donald Trump has an excellent personal relationship with the head of states of these two countries with which he shares his ultra-right political belief and many idiosyncrasies.
The most interesting numbers turn up when questions regarding the decline of US’ soft and hard power is fielded. On an average, 60 per cent of the respondents across the 11 nations polled believe that China will trump the US within this decade. While such a view is highest in Spain at 79 per cent, even in Hungary, which has largely been an outlier to most of the questions polled, 48 per cent of respondents are convinced of this.
More debilitating for the Americans is the European perception of their power projection. The poll found out that only 10 per cent in France and Germany believe that their country needs the American security guarantee a great deal.
The corresponding numbers in other Western and Northern European countries is between 14-18 per cent. Only in Poland, which is perpetually afraid of Moscow of trampling it over, do 44 per cent of citizens believe that they need this guarantee a great deal.
The figures turn progressively bad for DC when it comes to taking sides in the Sino-American conflict. At the bare minimum, 50 per cent of those polled in every country wants their respective governments to remain neutral in such a conflict.
This number is above 50 per cent even in Poland where as many as 30 per cent of respondents want to take sides with the United States. It is this sentiment that forced Frau Merkel and Monsieur Macron to seal and deliver the investment deal with the Chinese even at the cost of personally thumbing it in the nose of President Joe Biden.
The scenario becomes prohibitively bad when the same question is fielded vis-à-vis Russia with which Europe has an on-going feud. Here too, except for Poland and Denmark, all the respondents polled want their governments to take a neutral stand. Even in the case of Poland, which has so much at stake on this issue, those advocating for remaining neutral (45 per cent) pip those who want to side with the Americans (36 per cent) by a fair margin.
This broad-based survey appears to be a damning verdict on the decline of American power and its belief in its exceptionalism. While technically moods can change depending on the change of personnel in DC, it appears that these beliefs are solidifying in Europe and neither Joe Biden nor his battery of experts has an effing idea of how to arrest this decline.
The perception of a decline in power has always heralded the actual, physical decline of power. This has been the history of civilisation. The waqar-o-izzat-o-iqbal goes first. And America appears to be sitting at that throe.