For centuries its ideas, ideals, culture and politics have shaped (and been admired by) the world around it. But economic crisis in the birthplace of democracy now appears to be taking its toll on the world's perception of Europe.
A survey of nearly 25,000 people from across 22 countries for the BBC World Service reveals for the first time sharply declining confidence in Europe as a force for good in the world.
And it reveals that an increasing number of nations are turning to Asia – not just for economic growth – but also political and cultural leadership as well.
Those questioned in countries ranging from the US, China, Australia, Iran, Nigeria and Pakistan were asked whether the influence of each of 16 countries and the EU were positive or negative.
In past years the annual poll has always placed European countries and the Union in general at the very top of international perceptions. But the 2012 Country Ratings Poll has found that positive views of the EU have dropped eight points, from 56 to 48 per cent, across the countries polled.
Ratings of other European nations dropped as well, with the UK down six points, France down four points and Germany, the most positively regarded nation last year, has seen its ratings drop from 60 to 56 per cent. This puts Germany in second place behind Japan, which is now rated most positively – by 58 per cent on average, up two points from last year.
In contrast, positive views of China rose from 46 to 50 per cent on average. They jumped particularly sharply in the UK (up 19 points), as well as in Australia, Canada, and Germany (all up 18 points).
Views of the US remained unchanged, with 47 per cent expressing positive views while the most negatively rated countries were, as in previous years, Iran, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.
Canada (rated positively by 53 per cent) and the UK (by 51 per cent) were the third and fourth most positively viewed countries.
Sam Mountford, a director of GlobeScan which co-ordinated the polling for the BBC, said this year marked the first time that European ratings had significantly fallen.
"What we tend to see is that prosperous, stable and internationally minded democracies do well in the polling.
"And that is how the rest of the world has always perceived Europe and the EU," he said.
"But this year, probably in part because of the crisis in the eurozone, Europe looks like less of a beacon than it did. People around the world have always identified with the European lifestyle but that lifestyle is looking less attractive than it once did."
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