Germany in Europe

Peter KellnerPresident
June 29, 2012, 8:42 AM GMT+0

New poll shows Germans wary of bail-outs, the euro – even the EU itself, explains YouGov President Peter Kellner

There is one figure in a poll conducted this week by YouGov-Germany that could turn David Cameron green with envy. Despite Angela Merkel’s domestic problems ahead of next year’s elections to the Bundestag, two-thirds of her countryfolk trust her government to take the right decisions about the future of the European Union. If she has to act tough, or alternatively change course, at this week’s European Union summit in Brussels, she has a good chance of taking most Germans with her.

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However, our survey shows that Merkel would have more difficulty detecting a clear sign of what Germans actually favour ahead of the summit, for there is no national consensus, either about the current financial crisis, or even the whole EU project itself:

  • Just under half of all Germans – 47% – think Germany’s membership of the EU is good for Germany

  • The country is fairly evenly divided on whether the euro is good for Germany. (On both the EU and the euros, more Germans think they are better for the rest of Europe rather than themselves)

  • If a referendum were held now on whether Germany should keep the euro or bring back the Deutschmark, the outcome would be too close to call

  • Germans are also divided on whether there should be closer integration across the Eurozone on overall levels of taxation and public spending. 43% support it, but almost as many, 38%, think ‘closer integration is a bad idea, even if this means that the Eurozone starts to break up’

YouGov-Germany conducted its special in-depth poll to explore German attitudes to Europe and the wider world, as Mrs Merkel decides how to respond to pressures from other European countries to spend more to help the Eurozone countries in difficulty.

Only 11% think ‘Germany should be as generous as possible, to help countries in difficulty, as the collapse of the euro would be bad for Germany and bad for Europe.’

The largest number, 44%, think ‘Germany should support other countries but impose strict conditions, and accept that if these conditions are not met, the Eurozone might break up.’

But a sizeable minority, 37%, think ‘Germany has done enough; we should not spend more money to help countries in difficulty and instead allow the Eurozone to break up’.

Given the level of trust in her Government, Mrs Merkel has some room for manoeuvre; but any sudden, significant increase in German funding for a bail-out package would need to be sold to her voters with great care.

However, she would find it easier to carry Germans with her if she sides with France rather than Britain in any dispute over specific measures. While 76% of Germans regard France as a good ally (and 71% have this view of the United States), the figure for Britain falls to 51%.

And whereas, by 53-37%, Germans trust the new French Government to take the right decisions about the future of the EU, even though President Hollande differs with Mrs Merkel on some fundamental issues, they distrust Britain’s Government by 51-38%. However, it’s worth noting that even fewer Germans trust the governments of the countries in greatest trouble: Spain (trusted by 26%), Italy (23%) and Greece (just 8%).

Responses to two other questions tell us something deeper about the way Germany’s journey through the 20th century impacts on attitudes today.

First, it is often said the experience of hyperinflation in 1923 is seared into the country’s collective memory, and that the fear of high inflation dominates the way people think about their economy, to the extent that it is regarded as an even greater evil than high unemployment.

That may have been true for an earlier generation, but it is not true today. We asked: If the German Government was forced to choose between these options, which would you prefer?

  • Policies that reduce unemployment, even if inflation rises to some extent: 53%
  • Policies that keep inflation low, even if unemployment rises to some extent: 22%
  • Don’t know: 24%

Secondly, we wanted to know whether Hitler’s shadow still casts a pall over German attitudes, in the form of a lingering sense of national guilt, almost 70 years after the end of the Second World War. We asked people whether they agreed or disagreed with this statement: ‘In the past 10-20 years, successive German leaders have worried too much about German guilt for what happened under the Nazis, and not enough about standing up for German interests today’

Just over half of respondents, 52%, agree, while 36% disagree. So the shadow has not disappeared completely, but these days there is perhaps less demand for German leaders to atone for the past, and a greater appetite for them do what is right for their country today.

See the survey details and full results

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