The past year has brought tectonic shifts for public opinion in Europe.
Russia’s war against Ukraine represents a watershed in Europe. Security Radar 2023 examines public attitudes in Germany, France, Latvia and Poland right before the invasion (autumn 2021) and ten months after it (autumn 2022). The changes in public opinion within a year trace the tectonic shifts occurring in Europe.
Fear of war, but also economic concerns have risen sharply.
The results of the survey provide a grim picture of heightened concerns and fears. They also indicate an awareness that there are no easy solutions to the war. Across the board people are overwhelmingly worried about wars and conflicts and even consider new wars in Europe likely. These fears have risen sharply compared with last year. Geopolitical tensions are now assigned top priority in international affairs. Worries about economic crises, inflation and the rising cost of living are pervasive, affecting up to 90% of respondents.
A world view reminiscent of the Cold War is forming in people's minds.
The results indicate a perception of opposing blocs in international relations: the EU and the United States on one side, and Russia and China on the other, with tensions running high. While Russia is viewed similarly across the four polled countries, views on China differ. Russia is not considered part of European security or a partner for cooperation any more, but rather an aggressive, destabilising actor and a long-term adversary.
There is a desire to support Ukraine without becoming a party to the war itself.
The end of Russia’s war against Ukraine is widely considered essential for rebuilding European security. The war is expected to grind on for the foreseeable future, with no clear path towards an end. Despite economic fears, people are prepared to support Ukraine against the aggressor across the board. They endorse the widening of sanctions and support a ban on Russian oil and gas, even at the expense of rising prices. Weapons supplies to Ukraine are polarising, and sending their country’s own troops is a clear red line: there are overwhelming majorities opposing such a step. The survey shows stable support for Ukraine, but no willingness to become embroiled in the war.
Threat perceptions in Europe are converging, but lead to different conclusions.
Overall, the war has brought threat perceptions among the polled countries closer together. Respondents in the four countries broadly share views on a number of crucial issues, such as increased military spending, stronger cooperation between NATO and the EU, as well as priority for peace, the importance of diplomacy, and the peaceful mitigation of conflicts.
Nonetheless, there are still notable differences, which often run along East–West lines and may complicate the formulation of a common EU security policy. They pertain to the desirability of a stronger role for NATO, the question of potential Ukrainian membership of NATO and the EU, opinions on military interventions and on cooperation with non-like-minded states.
The countries of the Weimar Triangle lack trust in each other, especially Germany and Poland.
Most alarmingly, mutual trust is low inside the Weimar triangle (Germany, France and Poland). Perceptions of Germany, often designated as a leader of European policy, are divided: it is viewed as a leader by France and Latvia, but as an obstructor by Poland. The silver lining is that leadership by the three countries together garners considerable trust.
3 conclusions for the way ahead
When looking ahead, three interconnected divisions need to be addressed. First, rifts within the EU between Western and Eastern countries that may diminish the Union’s clout. In this context, temporary complementarity between European and US security policy should not be confused with permanent unity, even though the Western alliance is currently coherent and united in its approach to the war in Ukraine. Second, a looming conflict between democracies and autocracies that should not preclude issue-based cooperation to address global challenges such as the climate crisis. Third and most importantly, a hot conflict on the European continent: Russia’s war against Ukraine. Helping Ukraine to prevail while avoiding an escalation that could draw other countries into the war is the most pertinent objective for political decision-makers.
The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) is a non-profit German foundation funded by the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany, and headquartered in Bonn and Berlin. It was founded in 1925 and is named after Germany's first democratically elected President, Friedrich Ebert. FES is committed to the advancement of both socio-political and economic development in the spirit of social democracy, through civic education, research, and international cooperation. Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung is the oldest political foundation in Germany.
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