The European Union is increasingly perceived all over the world as a global power, and is anticipated to play a major role on the international stage in 2020 after the US, China and Russia. The US's superpower image is fading, while China and Russia have risen enormously in stature. There was a spike in many parts of the world in people's awareness of the dangers of climate change and environmental devastation. Climate protection and poverty are currently seen as the most important tasks facing international policy makers. These are some of the findings of a worldwide opinion poll conducted by the German foundation, the Bertelsmann Stiftung.
According to the poll, the European Union already enjoys the reputation of a global player, and was ranked fifth on average by all international respondents. This picture improves for the Europeans as time goes on. When asked which nations and organizations would be global powers in 2020, every third person mentioned the EU. On the other hand, the US lost its undisputed leadership position. While 81 percent of people would still call the US a world power today, only 61 percent expect it to retain this position into 2020. Once again, China, India and – more recently – Russia have greatly boosted their own profiles as global players. With a 57 percent response rate, China was mentioned almost as frequently as the US as a future superpower. They were followed further down by Russia with 37 percent, the EU with 33 percent, Japan with 33 percent and India with 29 percent.
Compared to the United Nations, the EU is perceived as a very strong player in global politics. This applies in all countries surveyed except India, where the UN has a higher standing. And in China, the perception of the EU as a world power rose significantly – by 15 percentage points in the past two years.
When asked if their own country should cooperate more closely with the EU, the vast majority of the international respondents – 74 percent on average – said yes. This desire is particularly strong in China and Russia, where stronger ties with the EU are favoured by 98 percent and 91 percent of respondents, respectively. In the US, these numbers were 78 percent, in Brazil 70 percent, in India 68 percent and in Japan 48 percent.
Recent years have seen a shift in perceptions of what challenges face the world and what goals global players should work towards. For example, in almost all the countries surveyed, awareness of environmental threats skyrocketed, while dangers such as global terrorism were viewed as less urgent. Awareness of environmental problems has risen more than 10 percentage points worldwide since 2005. The percentage of people who viewed climate change and environmental devastation as global threats rose in all countries surveyed, but especially in the US (+22 percentage points), China (+17 percentage points) and Japan (+16 percentage points). On average, 54 percent of all people viewed environmental destruction as the most important threat. Only in Russia (31 percent) and India (28 percent) did a minority of the population view this problem as a major threat. At the same time, the perceived significance of global terrorism showed no change compared to two years ago. The other key challenges cited by respondents were poverty and overpopulation, war, resource scarcity, and religious conflicts and fundamentalism.
What global threats predominate in people's views varies considerably from country to country. In India, poverty and overpopulation are mentioned most often, while Russians cite the dangers of war, the Chinese resource scarcity and the French religious fundamentalism.
Summarizing the study, Josef Janning, Head of International Relations at the Bertelsmann Stiftung, noted, "People's future expectations hold enormous sway over policymaking. All over the world, people see the US losing its dominant position and China gaining ground. However, they don't expect the kind of harmonious, balanced world order you might expect from a global government run by the United Nations. Instead, in almost every country, people plan to rely on their own strength in global competition and want their own countries to play larger roles in spreading peace and stability. If this perspective and expectation takes hold in global politics, we may see a resurgence of the sort of nationalistic brinkmanship between current and future global powers that we experienced so disastrously in 20th century Europe. However, the threat of climate change appears to be encouraging greater political cooperation at the international level."
Gallup International/TNS-EMNID, an opinion research firm, recently questioned 9,000 people in the US, Russia, Brazil, China, India, Japan, Germany, France and the UK for the Bertelsmann Stiftung study. As a benchmark, the findings were compared with a similar Bertelsmann Stiftung survey from 2005. The results of the world power survey were presented at the second meeting of the Bertelsmann Stiftung's Global Policy Council in Berlin. The council brings together high-calibre experts from various fields and regions to analyze the challenges and opportunities inherent in the dynamics of globalization, the rise of new powers and the emergence of new security risks.