Transatlantic ties: United we stand?

Relations between the U.S. and Europe have become strained following the cyber-spying revelations from whistle-blower Edward Snowden, with support for President Barack Obama's foreign policy falling, a new report shows.

As U.S. President Barack Obama gears up to deliver a foreign policy speech to outline the country's strategy against the ISIS threat, the annual Transatlantic Trends report from the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. (GMF) highlights that a majority of Americans disapproved of his international policy for the first time.

And support for his foreign affairs policy is also waning in Europe - falling from 69 to 64 percent - especially in Germany, where approval on President Obama's handling of international policy plummeted 20 percentage points to 56 percent in the wake of Edward Snowden's revelations regarding the National Security Agency's wiretapping activities.

Stronger role for EU?

However, the report also found that while Americans and Europeans felt positively about the U.S. and EU leadership in global affairs, both sides wished the EU would take a stronger stance.

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President Barack Obama speaks with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
AFP | Getty Images
President Barack Obama speaks with Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Indeed, while European support for strong U.S. leadership in world affairs remained stable year over year at 56 percent, the survey found that enthusiasm for increased EU leadership is growing.

In Europe, the percentage of respondents wanting a strong EU grew 2 percentage points since 2013 to 73 percent, but "most notable is the U.S. response", writes the report, as the figure grew 13 percentage points to 70 percent.

Future of NATO?

Furthermore, while the percentage of respondents describing NATO as essential to their security grew on both sides of the pond, a division emerged between U.S. and the EU on what future they would prefer for the transatlantic security partnership.

Half of European respondents said they'd prefer their country to take a more independent approach from the U.S, up 8 percentage points.

And once again, the "most remarkable response was from Germany" where support for a more independent approach to security and diplomatic affairs reached the majority for the first time, jumping 17 percentage points to 57 percent.

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Karen Donfried, president of the GMF warns that while the 2014 survey reveals that transatlantic relations had been turbulent in the past year, "the challenges posed by Russian actions in Ukraine and the crises across the Middle East underscore the importance of strengthened transatlantic cooperation".

Russia, Ukraine, Middle-east

When it comes to addressing the Middle-East, opinions are split. In Europe, most respondents would prefer to either work with other EU members or independently -- 44 percent and 41 percent respectively. Only 10 percent of EU respondents believed their country should partner with the U.S.

Similarly, in the U.S., a majority – 48 percent – would rather work alone in the Middle East, but 45 percent would like to work with Europe.

However, fans of transatlantic ties continue to support Ukraine in its conflict against pro-Russian rebels, the report states, and would approve further economic and political support for Ukraine even if there was a risk of increasing conflict with Russia. But the support stops short of military assistance.

Over 70 percent of Europeans and 52 percent of Americans disapproved of proposals to send military supplies and equipment to Ukraine. However, nearly two-thirds of Americans and Europeans agreed that stronger economic sanctions against Russia were warranted.

The transatlantic Trends – which polled in Russia for the second time in 2014 – found that 83 percent of Russians approved of their own government's handling of international policies and 53 percent said Russia should act to maintain influence over Ukraine, even if there was a risk this could cause conflict with the EU.

In each of the countries surveyed – the U.S., Russian and eleven European countries including Turkey - a sample of approximately 1,000 men and women were polled, mostly through computer assisted telephone interviews. Only Poland, Turkey and Russia – where a larger sample of 1,500 people were surveyed - necessitated face to face interviews due to lower telephone penetration.

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