EU's East-West Divide Shifts On US And Russia

By Valentina Pop

The traditional European east-west divide towards the US and Russia is shifting, with 'Obama-mania' and the willingness to stand up to Moscow more frequent among western than eastern Europeans, a survey of the German Marshall Fund reveals.

US-EU relations rebounded once US president Barack Obama took office, with an unprecedented surge in popularity in Germany, Britain and France, where he enjoys more support than at home, the latest Transatlantic Trends show.

The survey was carried out by the Washington-based German Marshall Fund of the United States, a think-tank focusing on transatlantic relations. Polling was conducted in June and July 2009 in the US, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

The results show that three in four people in the EU and Turkey support Mr Obama's handling of international affairs, a quadrupling in approval compared with their judgment of president Bush in 2008.

But while western European pro-US sentiments are skyrocketing, central and eastern Europeans appear less impressed by Mr Obama.

Poles, Romanians and Slovakians went from being Europe's biggest backers of George W. Bush last year to Barack Obama's least enthusiastic supporters.

And fewer respondents in central and eastern Europe (53 percent) than in western Europe (63 percent) see America in a positive light. Only 25 percent of the people in the region believe that relations between the US and Europe have improved in the last year, compared to 43 percent in the western European countries.

The shift is also perceived in pro-Nato sentiments, with 53 percent of Easterners backing the Alliance, compared to 63 percent of Westerners.

"If there is a part of Europe where the Obama administration has yet to connect with the public, it is in central and eastern Europe," the survey analysis recommends.

West more concerned about Russia

Transatlantic Trends find a generalized disquiet about Russia all across Europe, but it is more the western Europeans who are upset about Russia as an energy provider and who are willing to stand up to Moscow than the central and eastern Europeans.

"The popular image of a Russia-phobic central and eastern Europe and a more Russia-friendly western Europe was not found in the Transatlantic Trends 2009 data," the survey analysis notes.

The weakening of Russian democracy troubled two thirds of respondents in western countries, compared to half in central and eastern ones. On the issue of Nato enlargement, however, support for defying Russia is strongest in central and eastern Europe.

Anxiety about Moscow's treatment of its neighbors has gone up all over Europe over the last three years, but in 2009, more people in the West (69 percent) than in central and eastern Europe (63 percent) expressed concern.

Some 70 percent of western Europeans and 66 percent of eastern ones support EU security assistance to countries like Ukraine and Georgia. Over 60 percent of all Europeans also back such aid by Nato.

However, more than 40 percent of Westerners said they were willing to abandon certain Western alliance policies, such as Nato enlargement, in order to secure energy supplies from Russia.

By comparison, only 28 percent of Bulgarians, Poles, Romanians and Slovaks would consider such a move.