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Tuesday, 11 February, 2003, 12:08 GMT
Polls find Europeans oppose Iraq war
An anti-war protestor in Germany
More than 87% of Germans oppose war on Iraq

Europe's leaders may be divided on the Iraq crisis, but the majority of people across the continent are united in their opposition to war, polls suggest.

From Portugal to Russia, opinion surveys suggest that without a further UN resolution, most Europeans are overwhelmingly against war - and even a second resolution would not convince many of them.

In Germany, central to Europe's anti-war bloc, an opinion poll this week makes it look almost as if the Germans now see the US - not Iraq - as the main threat to world peace.

The Forsa poll found 57% of Germans held the opinion that "the United States is a nation of warmongers".

Only 6% said they thought President George W Bush was concerned with "preserving peace".

Anti-war protester
Anti-war demonstrations are taking place across Europe
From Germany there is also evidence of damage to the overall image of the US.

A new Emnid poll conducted in Berlin found that 54% percent of Berliners under 30 years old had a "mostly negative" association with the US as a country, against 36% who saw it as "mostly positive".

The evidence of other recent military conflicts, including the first Gulf war against Iraq in 1991 and the 1999 conflict over Kosovo, is that public opinion can turn in favour of western governments when a war is waged and won.

One thing is clear. Most western European nations see a clear United Nations mandate as crucial to winning their support for military action.

In five EU countries, according to an EOS Gallup poll, that backing could not be won even with UN support for war.

Open in new window : Graphical data
Conflict with Iraq : Europe's war views
These anti-war figures are high compared to similar polls conducted before other US-led wars in recent times, including the first Gulf war, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

In each of those, military action was seen as being a reaction to aggressive action by an "enemy".

In the case of Iraq now, President George W Bush is advocating pre-emptive action.

US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld offended the French and Germans by calling them, and others who stood against the US strategy on Iraq, "old Europe".

He saw the countries of "new Europe" further east as the more willing allies.

That is true of the political leaders in central and eastern Europe and the Balkans - including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic - all of whom have signed public letters of support for the US lead.

Support low

Yet public opinion in eastern Europe is even more hostile to war than in the west.

A Gallup International poll of a few days ago found low support in the region for war, even if sanctioned by the UN - just 38% in Romania, 28% in Bulgaria and 20% in Estonia.

The figure for Russia was 23%.

And in Turkey, polls have consistently found an overwhelming majority to be against war on Iraq.

Yet the pro-Islamic government there says it will allow the US to use Nato bases in Turkey.

Decisive factor?

So public opinion, however strong, may not be the decisive factor in how a country acts.

In the UK, an opinion poll in the Times newspaper this week found that 51% of those questioned saw Tony Blair as a US poodle - although 47% trusted him to do the right thing. An overwhelming 86% wanted more time for weapons inspections, and only 25% thought enough evidence had been found to justify a war.

But as the case of Germany's Chancellor Schroeder shows, a leader who has strong backing for his anti-war stance may find that is not enough.

Mr Schroeder was a big loser in the latest two regional elections.

And in a poll last month 60% of respondents said the German nation as a whole would like to see "less and less" of Mr Schroeder in future.

Only 5% thought he would grow more popular.

The rest said there would be no change, or were undecided.

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05 Feb 03 | Europe
06 Feb 03 | Middle East
11 Feb 03 | Europe
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