Europeans believe in greater self-reliance in shift away from influence of US

Majority view US political system as ‘broken’, and a problem Joe Biden will struggle to fix

FILE - In this Jan. 15, 2021 file photo President-elect Joe Biden speaks during an event at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del. When Biden takes the oath of office Wednesday, he will begin to reshape the office of the presidency itself as he sets out to lead a bitterly divided nation grappling with a devastating pandemic and an insurrection meant to stop his ascension to power. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

Most Europeans were glad to see Joe Biden voted in as US president, but they do not believe he will quickly return the country to its status as the pre-eminent global leader.

A poll of 15,000 citizens from 11 countries by the European Council on Foreign Relations found that more than 60 per cent of Europeans view the US political system as "broken" and a majority believe China will be more powerful than Washington within a decade.

Mark Leonard, director of the ECFR, said that respondents looked to Germany as the major power with which they wanted a strong relationship.

"In most of the countries surveyed, particularly the bigger ones, Berlin rather than Washington is seen as the go-to capital," he said.

Mr Leonard said he suspected it was "part and parcel of this new approach of looking for a more sovereign and a more autonomous Europe".

“What we found if you take all these things together is that, though people were very happy about Biden and where he’s going, there are real fears about the prevalence of American political problems and the dangers of American weakness on the world stage,” he said.

A majority of Europeans believe US voters might elect a figure similar to departing leader Donald Trump in four years’ time – with 53 per cent of Germans polled saying that “Americans can no longer be trusted” after the president’s tumultuous term at the White House.

Only in Hungary and Poland did a majority of respondents say the US political system worked. Many – at least 50 per cent in all countries – would also want their country to remain neutral in any potential dispute between the US and China.

Europeans also believe in greater self-reliance, according to the poll, with an average of 67 per cent believing “that they cannot always rely on the US to defend them and, therefore, need to invest in European defence”.

Mr Leonard said issues in the US meant Europeans increasingly wanted "to look to themselves".

Ivan Krastev, chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies, co-authored a report on the poll's findings with Mr Leonard. He said the "tumultuous" tenure of Mr Trump had left an "indelible imprint" on Europe.

“The majority of Europeans are now sceptical about the capacity of the US to shape the world. It makes many, rightly or wrongly, want to opt for a more independent role for the EU in the world,” he said.

The authors of the report noted that while differences remain in how Europeans view the US, opinions are increasingly converging.

“While, at the time of the invasion of Iraq, most Europeans thought their continent was weak and America was strong, the truth is that Europeans are now more positive about themselves and more sceptical about America’s power and political system,” the authors said.

The research was carried out at the end of 2020, before the riots at the US Capitol earlier this month.

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