The largely unnoticed downgrading of US-EU ties is so important. Taken entirely for granted by a Trump administration uninterested in the high art of alliance management, when the US sheriff sets out to corral new rival China, it will do so without Europe unambiguously coming along as part of the posse.
A recent series of polls makes this shocking fact clear. EU citizens increasingly distrust both the US and China, the rival superpowers of our new era.
A Pew Research Poll from 26 April highlights the gloomy reality that only 37 per cent of Germans think their country should prioritise its relationship with the US — a precipitous drop from 50 per cent in 2019. At the same time, 36 per cent said Germany should instead focus on its relationship with rising power China — a stratospheric increase from just 24 per cent a year before.
The political direction of this earthquake in public opinion is clear. As a comprehensive European Council on Foreign Relations poll of 29 April goes on to report, 42 per cent think that the EU needs to pursue a policy of strategic sovereignty, as a regional bloc independent of either superpower, while only 15 per cent still think Europe ought to align itself with its long-time US ally against China.
French President Emmanuel Macron has seized on this new data to sing the Gaullist siren song once again. On 14 June, the President boldly called for a renewal of the Franco-German alliance, one that will “be able to stand up against China, against the US, against the disorder we are currently witnessing”.
The fracturing of the US-EU alliance has been years in the making. At present, in policy terms, there seem to be more areas of abject disagreement than concord.
The US and Brussels disagree about the old Iranian nuclear deal, the Paris climate accord, Huawei’s penetration of European 5G networks, the German-Russian Nordstream II pipeline, trade issues, defence issues, as well as how to manage the rise of China. At a certain point, allies are not allies if they fundamentally disagree about so much.
Nor is this all the fault of everyone’s favourite bugbear, President Donald Trump. While the current White House has undoubtedly exacerbated this looming crisis, major areas of disagreement preceded Trump into the White House, and will remain long after he has left.
In fact, one of the few areas left of bipartisan agreement in utterly toxic Washington is that the two parties are in concord over the notion that China has played a destructive role in the international community, and that its power must be checked.
The general response to this call for the west to present a united front against Beijing has been crickets chirping in Europe. Pivotal Germany has too much to lose in economic terms to reflexively side with a US it increasingly dislikes and distrusts.
It is difficult to over-estimate the importance of China as an export market for German goods, especially cars and machinery. Since Chancellor Angela Merkel came to power in 2005, German exports to China have increased five-fold. For all Berlin’s high-minded verbiage about human rights, it has always always exhibited a low cunning when it comes to furthering its commercial policy.
It is not that the EU, or even the major powers within it, will ever definitively turn towards Beijing in forming an explicitly anti-American alliance. China does too many things too brutally for that to ever happen, from its mass incarceration of one million Uighurs in camps in western China, to extinguishing liberty in Hong Kong, to ignoring international law in the South China Sea.
But this decided drift does mean that the EU and many of its major states have no inclination to join the new Cold War posse. The US is blessed to still have the Anglosphere countries (the UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia), Japan, and new great power India increasingly riding along with it.
But as our western moves towards its climax, the sheriff’s former sidekick has increasingly decided to sit the showdown out.
Main image credit: Getty