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  • Transatlantic Trends 2020

    Study -
    JUNE 2020

2020 has been marked by an unprecedented series of political, economic, and societal shocks that have tested the resilience of the transatlantic relationship. From the Covid-19 pandemic and its global implications, to regional issues such as the risk of military escalation with Iran, to purely transatlantic matters like the withdrawal of American troops from Germany, the United States and Europe have experienced a multiplicity of crises that challenge the terms of the transatlantic partnership.

At the same time, the strategic competition between the United States and China has become more central in world affairs. For communities on both sides of the Atlantic, the Covid-19 crisis has revealed the rise of China’s political and economic influence. While the United States is gearing up to face this new geopolitical environment, Europeans have yet to define their role and strategic ambitions.

The transatlantic community can play an essential role in meeting these challenges, but for us to work in common purpose, we need to understand how those challenges look to our respective societies. That insight - the need to anchor this cooperation in the perceptions and desires of the population - is at the core of the Transatlantic Trends project.

The 2020 edition of Transatlantic Trends, conducted in cooperation with the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Bertelsmann Foundation, includes the results of surveys carried out in the United States, France and Germany, first in January 2020 and then again in May, in order to gauge the impact of the pandemic on the public perceptions of different foreign policy issues. The original data provided by this report is meant to be a helpful tool for policymakers, the media, the business sector, and researchers. It also aims at fostering relevant debates, strengthening mutual understanding, and building a positive agenda for transatlantic cooperation.

Divided into five chapters, Transatlantic Trends provides a detailed picture of transatlantic public opinion on five core and contemporary issues: the transatlantic relationship, international security and defense, international trade, relations with China and digital issues.

The State of Transatlantic Relations

The United States is perceived as the most influential global power. The consensus remains after the Covid-19 crisis outbreak - by 55% of French respondents, 54% of Germans and 76% of Americans -, but China’s perceived influence has grown as a result of the crisis.

We observe different perceptions of Europe across the Atlantic: 52% of Americans perceive the United Kingdom as the leading power in Europe, whereas 72% of French and 76% Germans view Germany as the leader. Germany’s perceived influence in Europe has increased during the Covid-19 crisis.

Even in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, climate change is the top priority for transatlantic cooperation for the French and German populations and American Democrats.

International Security and Defense

Despite the Trump Administration’s vocal skepticism, US support for NATO and an American involvement in the security and defense of Europe remain high, regardless of political affiliations. Over two-thirds of Germans and Americans believe NATO plays an important role in the security of their respective countries, while French respondents are more doubtful about NATO’s importance in ensuring France’s security.

French respondents express signs of a "war fatigue", seven years after the launch of Operation Serval in Mali. Germany, on the other hand, emerges as more willing to be involved in international security issues and conflicts, and to increase defense spending.

Unsurprisingly, in the context of the Covid-19 crisis, health issues have become the most urgent security challenges in all three countries: for 45% of French respondents, 33% of Germans and 42% of Americans. However, climate change comes as a close second for German respondents (24%).

 

International Trade

Economic ties between the European Union and United States have become increasingly strained over the past few years. This tension has manifested itself in an ongoing trade war – implemented by the current US administration to ostensibly accomplish economic reciprocity. However, despite the position of Washington, Americans and Germans mostly feel that the relationship is mutually beneficial (respectively 28% and 41%), while 49% of French respondents find the relationship favors the U.S. more.

Additionally, support for a transatlantic trade agreement is high, reaching a clear majority in all three countries. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on transatlantic trade, opinions across all three countries largely remain the same: with 54% French, 58% Germans and 66% Americans supporting a trade agreement between the EU and the U.S.

Relations with China

Washington and the EU Commission have taken a tougher tone towards China in recent years, and public opinion has followed, especially after the coronavirus crisis. Indeed, most Americans (57%), French (58%) and Germans (61%) now view China’s rising influence negatively, with an increase in about 10 points in each country after the Covid-19 outbreak.

While respondents across countries diverge as to what extent their respective government should engage China on certain issues - with French respondents expressing the strongest desire for taking a tougher stance towards China -, support for increased pressure on issues such as climate change, human rights, and cybersecurity are high.

 

Digital Trends

The digital economy has been a source of tension for transatlantic partners, as Europeans have sought to regulate and tax American tech giants and Washington has called foul. But public opinion is aligned - even Americans (38% of respondents) think tech giants should pay more taxes.

On other issues, there is no consensus: Americans are more anxious than French and German respondents about digital challenges, especially when it comes to privacy (54% Americans are very concerned, vs. 46% of French and 30% of Germans), cyberattacks (49% of Americans are very concerned, vs. 34% of French and 37% of Germans showing deep concern), and fake news (54% of US respondents are very concerned, vs. 37% of French and 35% of Germans).

 

Overall, it appears that despite President Trump’s rhetoric against the European Union (on trade, defence, etc.), the American opinion appears "resilient" in recognizing the value of the transatlantic relationship. Indeed, a solid majority still sees a responsibility for the United States to be involved in the defense and security of Europe, 3 out of 4 Americans consider that NATO plays an important role in the security of the United States, and two thirds of Americans support a trade agreement between the United States and the European Union.

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