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COVID-19

Europeans harden views towards US and EU after pandemic

"Trust in Trump's America is gone." The coronavirus crisis has caused a dramatic deterioration in the European public perception of the US and left many believing the EU had become "irrelevant", new polling finds.

Europeans harden views towards US and EU after pandemic
Europeans have hardened their views of the US. Photo: AFP

The new survey by the European Council for Foreign Relations (ECFR) says the pandemic has traumatised Europeans and left them “feeling alone and vulnerable”.

The survey studied the views of Europeans towards the EU and notably its response to the coronavirus crisis and the results did not make for positive reading.

“There is a powerful sense among citizens of almost all surveyed member states that their country was largely left to fend for itself in dealing with the pandemic,” read the study.

“Few respondents to the survey had a positive view of the EU's coronavirus response. In no surveyed country do a majority of them see a positive change in the performance of EU institutions during the crisis,” the survey found.

Some 63 percent of Italians, 61 percent of French people, and 52 percent of Spaniards said that the EU has not lived up to its responsibilities. 

“Finally, and perhaps most damningly of all, a large plurality (and, in some cases, a majority) in every surveyed member state described the EU as having slipped into irrelevance in the coronavirus crisis,” it said.

But that did not mean there is an increased desire to see the European project fail.

In fact a majority in all countries surveyed believed there was a need for greater European cooperation after the pandemic.

“The share of respondents who held this belief was as high as 91 percent in Portugal and 80 percent in Spain. But perhaps even more noteworthy was the response in less Europhile member states. In France, Sweden, and Denmark, more than half of respondents approved of greater cooperation at the European level. In Italy, 77 percent did,” read the survey.

The survey revealed that one of the impacts of the crisis was the desire by many Europeans to see greater border controls.

“A substantial share of the population in surveyed countries – ranging from 48 percent in Denmark to 73 percent in Portugal – supports stricter border controls. This is a powerful signal of Europeans' current sense of vulnerability,” it read.

Europe's views of US deteriorate

 

Strikingly the survey also revealed a steep deterioration in the European perception of Donald Trump's America.

More than 60 percent of respondents in Germany, France, Spain, Denmark and Portugal said they had lost trust in the United States as a global leader.

Forty-six percent of French respondents, and 42 percent of Germans, said their view of the US had worsened “a lot” as a result of the coronavirus crisis (the highest results among all surveyed countries).

“Now, Europeans' trust in Trump's America is gone. Many of them have been appalled by the country's chaotic response to Covid-19; the lack of solidarity it showed with Europeans in the March 12th closure of its border to members of the Schengen area; and its lack of leadership in tackling the coronavirus crisis at the global level – or even engagement with the issue (beyond a war of words with the World Health Organisation),” the study wrote.

“Europeans have accepted the fact that Trump's America is not necessarily a friend of Europe in a time of need.”

 

 

Europeans' view of China has also worsened since the pandemic.

“More than 60 percent of respondents in France and Denmark reported that their view of China had worsened. In eight of nine surveyed countries, the share of respondents who have adopted a more negative view of China in the past year has increased by between a factor of two and a factor of ten,” the study read.

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COVID-19

Austria in shock over doctor’s suicide following anti-vax abuse

Austrians expressed shock and anger this week over the suicide of doctor who had been the target of a torrent of abuse and threats from anti-vaccination protesters.

Austria in shock over doctor's suicide following anti-vax abuse

The bells of Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral rang out in memory of Lisa-Maria Kellermayr on Monday, and hundreds of people held a candle vigil outside, after the 36-year-old doctor was found dead at her practice on July 29.

She had long been the target of death threats because of her criticism of the widespread anti-lockdown protests of 2021.

An autopsy later confirmed that Kellermayr had taken her own life.

Austria has found itself deeply polarised over coronavirus restrictions and in particular a government policy –subsequently dropped — of making vaccination against the coronavirus compulsory.

Kellermayr — whose practice was in the region of Upper Austria where immunisation rates are particularly low — had frequently complained of the menace.

“For more than seven months, we have been receiving… death threats from those opposed to coronavirus measures and vaccinations,” she wrote at the time, sharing a message from one internet user who said they would pose as a patient in order to attack her and her staff.

She described how she had “invested more than 100,000 euros” ($102,000) in measures to ensure her patients’ safety and was on the brink of bankruptcy.

Then, at the end of June, Kellermayr announced on her professional website that she would not be seeing patients until further notice.

Daniel Landau, who organised a memorial vigil for her in Vienna, said that Kellermayr had become a virtual recluse for several weeks. “She didn’t dare to leave” her office, Landau told AFP.

Fanning the aggression

On Saturday, the head of Austria’s doctors’ association, Johannes Steinhart, said that while aggressive behaviour towards medical staff was not new, it had been “fired up and noticeably aggravated” by the debate over Covid-19 and vaccines.

The police, who had previously suggested Kellermayr was exploiting the situation for attention, insist they did everything to protect her. The local prosecutor’s office also rejected suggestions it could have done more.

“As soon as we received the police report (identifying one of the suspects), we sent it over to the relevant authorities in Germany,” spokesman Christoph Weber said.

On Friday, prosecutors in the neighbouring German state of Bavaria said a 59-year-old suspect was being investigated by a specialist hate speech unit.

At the beginning of the week, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen visited the small town of Seewalchen where Kellermayr lived to lay flowers in her memory.

After news of her death broke, he had appealed to Austrians to “put an end to intimidation and fear”.

‘They’re gagging us’

But on some Telegram groups, the hateful messages continue.

“Some people are celebrating her death; others believe the vaccine killed her,” said Ingrid Brodnig, a journalist and author who investigates online disinformation.

“Stricts laws exist” already against online hate, but not enough is done to implement them, Brodnig said.

One government minister has floated the idea of a separate prosecutor’s office to target such cases. Doctors and researchers have also been targeted elsewhere.

French infectious disease specialist, Karine Lacombe, described how she had been vilified for her work as part of a collective of doctors combatting coronavirus-related disinformation.

She, too, complained that the response from the authorities in the face of threats was not robust enough, and has scaled down her public appearances this year.

“You end up thinking that the risk isn’t worth it,” she told AFP. “In that sense (the aggressors) have won, they are gagging us,” she said.

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