29th Nov 2021

Europeans think new 'Cold War' is here - but not for them

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Most Europeans think that there is a new Cold War unfolding between the US and its rivals, Russia and China - but do not think their own country is involved, a new polling-backed report by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) has found.

The report, published on Wednesday (22 September) and based on polling 12 EU countries, also shows that Europeans consider EU institutions to be more likely than their own governments to be in a Cold War with China and Russia alongside Washington.

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UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres warned of a potential new cold war, ahead of the UN general assembly meeting this week.

He said the US and China should sort out their their "completely dysfunctional" relationship before problems between the two major super-powers spill over further to the rest of the planet.

"We need to avoid at all cost a Cold War that would be different from the past one, and probably more dangerous and more difficult to manage," Guterres told AP news wire.

With subsequent US administrations' attention turning to Asia, and the containment of China's growing security threat, the EU and member states have been struggling to balance the global see-saw.

Amid increasing tensions with China and Russia, US officials said US president Joe Biden will push back against the idea of a new Cold War emerging and will stress diplomacy and "vigorous" competition at the UN.

The new ECFR report showed, however, that nearly two-thirds of EU citizens (63 percent) believe that there is a new cold war developing between China and the US, with only 15 percent disagreeing.

With regards to Russia, 59 percent of Europeans think that a new cold war is emerging between Washington and Moscow, with only 16 percent disagreeing.

At the same time, only 15 percent of respondents believe that their country is currently in a new 'Cold War' with China, and 25 percent percent think that of Russia.

By contrast, 31 percent believe that the EU is probably or definitely in a cold war with China, twice as many as they think there is a cold war happening with their own country.

In fact, respondents in Hungary (91 percent), Bulgaria (80 percent), Portugal (79 percent), and Austria (78 percent) most likely to say that their country is not in a conflict with Beijing. Also, a majority of Europeans do not see China as a threat to their way of life, the report adds.

With regards to Russia, 44 percent agree the EU is engaged in a cold war, while only 26 per cent disagree.

This gap could be explained by some EU countries handing over foreign policy to the EU to defend European values and demonstrate strength, while allowing member states act primarily as mercantile powers.

Growing gulf

However, the report warns that it could also be explained with a growing gulf between European public opinion and the US, as well as between national approaches and the more hawkish position of the EU's political leadership in Brussels.

"If this new polling has captured a lasting trend, it reveals that European public is not ready to see the growing tensions with China and Russia as a new Cold war," Ivan Krastev, co-author of the report, and chair of the Centre for Liberal Strategies said.

"So far, it is only European institutions rather than European publics that are ready to see the world of tomorrow as a growing system of competition between democracy and authoritarianism," he added.

The 'new West' is a coalition between Washington and Brussels rather than between the US and Europe, the report said.

"The European public thinks there is a new cold war – but they don't want to have anything to do with it. Our polling reveals that a 'cold war' framing risks alienating European voters," co-author and founding director of ECFR, Mark Leonard said.

"Politicians can no longer rely on tensions with Russia and China to convince the electorate of the value of a strong Atlantic alliance. Instead, they need to make the case from European interests, showing how a rebalanced alliance can empower and restore sovereignty to European citizens in a dangerous world," he added.

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