It is not certain whether the Transatlantic gap - to the extent that it exists - will remain a permanent feature of the relationship between Europe and the US. Much will depend on what happens in the United States and on the policies of the present and future administrations. It remains puzzling how the Bush administration during its years in office continued to get its way in this area and to the end seemed impervious to the mounting criticism. This certainly has to do with the still pervasive fear of appearing 'unpatriotic', which has been so evident since the attacks of '9/11', and it remains to be seen how long it will take for an erosion of the present 'political correctness' to set in, and whether there will be a more general relaxation in the pervasive fear that characterized recent years. On the other hand, it also remains a surprise to some how little the Obama administration has done in this respect to divest itself from the Bush legacy and how much it continues to be guided by the same reflexes that did so much to poison the relations between the US and other countries in recent years.
The great strength of the American system, however, has always been its capacity to correct earlier deviations and to restore the foreign policy consensus needed to create abroad not only fear but also confidence in the justice of American leadership. This consensus has now been fundamentally eroded and an active public may have a vital role to play in its reconstruction.
Unfortunately, European governments for their part have regrettably little reason to boast about their own consensus and effective leadership in this connection. They have little reason too to be complacent about the results of the polls discussed here. As far as 'Europe' is concerned, the respondents are fairly unanimous. Whether they want 'Europe as a superpower' or not, they continue to want a more active, more united and more effective 'Europe' that plays a larger international role, in spite of the Euroskepticism that is so much being spoken about. They are probably also willing to pay for this and, for instance, to increase their military efforts, not today, but when the necessity and use of this might be convincingly explained to them. What is probably moving them more in this respect is probably less a calculated desire to be and remain 'free riders', but rather, sincere and understandable doubts as to what could actually be achieved by military power in the present world.
With respect to 'Europe' taking a larger role in the field of international security, it is true that this may increase rather than diminish conflicts with the United States, at least initially. As expected, the French are most insistent on a 'European role', and least mindful of possible conflict, but the polls show that even in the pro-American United Kingdom a majority now recognizes that in case of conflict the country's true interests on the whole lie with Europe. In the end, to work for a more balanced trans-Atlantic relationship is not only desired by Europe's citizens and politically sound, but it is probably also beneficial for the rest of the world.
In this connection, the absence of European unity on the problem of Iraq, the lack of convincing arguments for an alternative policy, and the gradual gravitation of some countries toward the position of the Bush administration while others persisted in their rejectionism, were singularly unhelpful with respect to achieving such a better balance. A European insistence on core issues of international law and order would not have antagonized, but would rather have created understanding and sympathy among very large numbers in the American public. In the years since then little has been done to increase the credibility of a collective European defense and foreign policy in the face of serious international crises. The cases of Libya and Syria are obvious examples that come to mind.