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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Strong Penchant for Old Europe

The United States is having a terrible time trying to find large numbers of international peacekeepers to replace its war-weary soldiers in Iraq. But at least it has got Poland and Ukraine.

The first significant airlifts of troops from those two countries started arriving in the Gulf last week -- more than 2,000 from Poland and 1,800 from Ukraine.

They will soon be backed up by further troops and police from Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Lithuania. Admittedly, several of the countries are expecting substantial U.S. financial contributions toward their costs. But that is all. They have positively rushed to demonstrate their credentials as good allies.

This all seems to confirm the confidence in Washington about the emergence of a "new" Europe from the ruins of the old Warsaw Pact, dedicated to stronger trans-Atlantic ties. When Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. defense secretary, coined the expression "new" Europe, he was contrasting it with what he saw as the tired old anti-Americanism in France and Germany. The balance was shifting, he suggested, in America's favor.

But it is not quite so simple. Feelings are more mixed in Central Europe than is instantly apparent.

Take the story of Vaclav Klaus, the prickly Czech president. He never backed the war. When he gave an audience to Craig Stapleton, the U.S. ambassador, last April, he made clear he did not like the U.S. "exporting democracy" any more than the U.S.S.R. "exporting revolution."

Klaus warned the envoy -- related by marriage to President George W. Bush -- that if the U.S. found weapons of mass destruction after the war was over, everyone would assume they had been planted.

At that point, by all accounts, Stapleton walked out. Relations between Washington and the Czech president have not quite recovered.

But the sensitivity is more than merely personal. The emerging democracies of Central Europe have been sorely embarrassed by any attempt to divide them from their western neighbors just as they are set to join the European Union.

"We lived on the political periphery of Europe for years, while geographically we were at the heart of Europe," says a senior Czech diplomat. "Now we have the opportunity to join, we don't want to be back on the periphery again."

Prague describes its own policy as "constructive ambiguity." In Warsaw, the view is similar. "We don't want to be called new Europe or the American Trojan horse," says a Polish government official. "We don't want the West to be split."

While these former Soviet satellites want to remain friends with the U.S., they already share more in attitudes and interests with the rest of Europe.

This is a clear conclusion that emerges from the most comprehensive recent survey of opinions in the countries set to join, or hoping to join, the EU. They are perhaps more pro-American than the old EU member states, but they are pro-European above all.

The Eurobarometer survey contrasts the views in 13 candidate countries with the 15 existing EU members. It seeks to compare the performance of the U.S. and EU on five questions: their contributions to world peace, the fight against terrorism, economic growth, the fight against poverty and environmental protection.

The authors admit that their interviewees may not be well informed on such questions, but they do give a good general indication of the respective images of the U.S. and EU. And on each one of the five questions, "new" Europe rates "old" Europe far above the U.S.

On promoting peace in the world, for example, 45 percent of "new" Europeans see the U.S. playing a negative role, against 34 percent who see it as positive. The EU, however, is viewed positively by 65 percent and negatively by only 13 percent.

The one question on which Eastern Europe sees the U.S. as more positive than negative is in the fight against terrorism: 48 percent say its role is positive and 35 percent negative. But even on that, the EU comes out better: 61 percent positive and 14 percent negative.

As for the fight against poverty, economic growth and protecting the environment, again the EU scores far better than the U.S. One might question the conclusions -- particularly on economic growth -- but the perception is clear.

In a separate series of questions, people in the new and would-be EU member states showed overwhelming support for common EU foreign and security policies. They were interviewed in the immediate aftermath of the war in Iraq. By 65 percent to 14, they favored a common EU policy in the future.

They showed an even larger majority in favor of a common defense policy -- by 73 percent to just 10 percent against. On both questions, there were fewer opponents to such common policies than in "old" Europe -- a striking endorsement of EU common policymaking.

There is no doubt that the new enlarged EU, up from 15 to 25 members next May, will differ from the old. There will be a wider range of views and decision-making will be more cumbersome. But it is not going to split -- at least, not if the new members can help it.

Quentin Peel is international affairs editor of the Financial Times, where this comment first appeared.