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22nd Sep 2019

Few Europeans see Russia as 'major' threat

  • Recent IS attacks in Paris and Brussels fuelled concern, but most Europeans against use of "overwhelming" military force (Photo: Full-tactical)

Most Europeans see Russia as a “minor” threat compared to Islamic State (IS), the refugee crisis or other issues, a survey suggests.

Roughly seven out of 10 people in the EU named IS, the jihadist group which recently carried out attacks in Paris and Brussels, as a “major” menace in a new study by US think tank Pew, out on Tuesday (14 June).

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  • Russian tanks on parade: Few Europeans shared EU and Nato leaders' concern on Russian revanchism (Photo: Dmitriy Fomin)

More than half of Europeans said climate change, economic instability and cyber-attacks were “dire” threats. A little less than half also named the number of refugees coming from Iraq and Syria as a “major” challenge.

But just one in three EU nationals put “tensions with Russia” in the same category.

Pew interviewed 11,494 people in April and May from France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the UK and the US.

The 10 European countries account for 80 percent of the EU population and 82 percent of its combined GDP.

The results indicated a divide between EU leaders and public opinion.

EU states are preparing to extend economic sanctions on Russia for another six months due to the war in Ukraine.

Nato is also planning to send 4,000 soldiers to the Baltic states and to Poland in September to deter potential Russian aggression.

But Poland stood out in the Pew sample as the only EU country where most people (71 percent) said Russia was a “major” issue. The number was lower than 35 percent in France, Germany, Italy and the UK. It was just 23 percent in Hungary.

Europeans were split on whether to take a tough line with Moscow.

Nine in 10 Greeks said it was more important to have good economic relations with Russia than to challenge it on foreign policy. Most Hungarians (67 percent), Germans (58 percent) and Italians (54 percent) agreed.

Seventy-one percent of Swedes, the highest figure in Europe, said the opposite. But just 45 percent believed that Sweden should join Nato.

Pew said its survey showed “dramatic differences” of opinion in Europe.

More than 90 percent of people in France and Spain believed IS was a major threat, falling to 69 percent in Sweden. More than 80 percent of Greek and Spanish people put climate change in the same category, compared with just 54 percent in coal-dependent Poland.

Over 80 percent of people in Greece and Spain, which face huge unemployment, feared economic instability.

Sixty-nine percent of Greeks and 65 percent of Italians, the two countries on the front line of the migration crisis, named refugees as a serious problem.

The figures were as high or higher in central European countries Hungary (69 percent) and Poland (73 percent). But they were the lowest in Germany (31 percent) and Sweden (24 percent), the two states that take in the most asylum seekers per capita.

Unloved EU

With the UK referendum on EU membership due next week, Pew said 51 percent of Europeans held favourable views of the EU.

But that figure was just 44 percent in the UK, 27 percent in Greece and 38 percent in France. The sharpest drops year-on-year were in France and Spain.

Huge majorities of people in Greece, Sweden, Italy and Spain said the EU mishandled the refugee crisis. Dutch people, French people, Greeks, Italians and Spanish people were also highly critical of EU economic policies.

Some of the divides followed ideological and educational lines. People in countries with right-wing governments, such as Hungary and Poland, were more concerned about refugees.

People who did not go to university were more fearful or refugees and more likely to say that the best way to deal with IS was by using “overwhelming force”. Most Europeans said “relying too much on military force to defeat terrorism creates hatred that leads to more terrorism”.

France turns inward

The Pew study found what it called a “profound gulf” between how French and German people “see their respective places in the world”.

Most Germans believed their country had become more important on the world stage and that it should play a bigger role in foreign policy, even if that meant making compromises with EU or Nato allies that hurt German interests.

But the majority of French people said it had “lost prominence on the world stage” and that it should put national interests first.

The level of “nation-first sentiment” has seen little change in Europe overall in recent years, the US think tank said.

But Pew noted that 57 percent of Americans believed the US should deal with its own problems and leave its allies to fend for themselves - 11 percentage points more than in 2010.

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