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New survey shows Greece, Europe increasingly worlds apart

May 30, 2012

Source: Pew Research Center

Pew Research Center just released the results of a recent survey that makes for some fascinating reading. The survey was carried out in eight EU countries – Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece, Poland, and the Czech Republic – and the United States. The survey included a wide array of questions about several topical issues, including the ongoing economic crisis and how best to deal with it, views about the EU and European political leaders, stereotypes about European nationalities, and a variety of other questions. You can view a summary of the results here.

A number of interesting findings, some of them counterintuitive, jumped out at this reader during a quick overview. In general, the most commonly cited divisions within Europe – those between North and South, West and East, wealthy and less wealthy – do not manifest themselves in a particularly salient way in the survey results. If there was one cleavage that came up again and again, it is the one between Greece and the rest of Europe. As the report points out:

At a time when it faces its most serious economic challenge since its creation, the European Union is, in some ways, fractured into multiple, often discordant, elements. But these divisions do not always cut along presumed lines. Germans stand alone in their perceptions of their recent experience, their attitudes toward European unity and, in the eyes of their fellow Europeans, in terms of their character traits. But, contrary to their popular portrayal, the Germans do not differ markedly from other Europeans on policy issues. On many counts, it is the Greeks who are the most isolated in Europe.

This gulf between Greece and the rest of Europe is evidenced in a somewhat amusing way in the answers to a question asking respondents whom they consider to be the most and least hardworking nation in Europe. Pluralities in seven of the eight countries chose the Germans; the lone exception was Greece, where respondents chose the Greeks! Conversely, pluralities in five of the countries chose the Greeks as the least hardworking.

The negative feelings Greeks have for Germany and its leader Angela Merkel were also seen in several questions. Despite the ongoing protests against austerity, and the perception that Germany and Merkel are advocates of this policy, strong majorities in seven of the countries reported positive opinions of her. (Indeed, despite frequent reports of Franco-German conflict, and testy relations between Merkel and former French President Nikolas Sarkozy, 76% of French responded that she was doing a good job, second only to the 80% favorability rating Merkel received among Germans). The one exception on the Merkel question was in Greece, where 14% gave her a positive assessment. Outside of Greece, at least 67% of respondents in every country reported a favorable opinion of Germany; within Greece, only 21% did so. (Although this animosity towards Germany hasn’t stopped many Greeks from relocating there in hopes of greater economic opportunity.) The findings that Greeks consider themselves the hardest workers in Europe and the intense negative feelings towards Germany would seem to demonstrate that Greeks blame the financial mess their country is on political elites, whether they be in Athens, Brussels, or Berlin.

Another clear trend is the sense of pessimism and gloom surrounding economic conditions. Only in Germany did a majority (73%) rate the economic situation in 2012 as good; the second most “optimistic” country was Poland, where 29% rated economic conditions favorably. Another question asked whether recent deficit-reducing austerity measures have gone too far, not far enough, or just the right amount. Despite the recent chatter about rising anti-austerity sentiment, the results show a more cautious interpretation of the public mood is in order. In France and Poland, pluralities said that spending cuts have not gone far enough. The two most anti-austerity countries were Spain and the Czech Republic, while Italy was almost evenly split between those saying spending cuts had been too deep and those saying they hadn’t been deep enough.

Despite the perception that Germans are the most adamantly opposed to EU-funded bailouts, French respondents were actually slightly more opposed to them (56%), while Brits were the most opposed (62%). On this question, however, the breakdown was fairly close to what one might expect; the three most economically challenged countries in the study (Greece, Spain, and Italy) were far more supportive of bailouts. And despite recent announcements that the European Commission is attempting to further increase EU oversight over national budgets, majorities in seven countries expressed opposition to additional EU powers in this area. (The outlier here was Italy, where a plurality of 45% expressed support for additional EU oversight).

This year’s survey also showed a marked deterioration in the number of those who see EU membership as a good thing, compared to 2009. Germany is the only country where the percentage of those with such a view increased from 2009. Spain had the second highest score on this question, somewhat surprisingly, although the numbers decreased from 67% in 2009 to 54% this year. Britain’s 30% might perhaps be unsurprising, but the Czech Republic witnessed the largest deterioration in the numbers of those who see EU membership as a good thing. The number fell from 45% in 2009 to 28% today, perhaps in response to the spread of the euro zone crisis to Eastern Europe and to austerity cuts implemented to meet EU deficit requirements. The contrast between the Czechs and Poles regarding their opinions toward the EU calls into question any notion about a common “east European” view. Although Poles have become slightly less enthusiastic about the EU, 69% of them had a favorable impression of the institution to lead all countries; Czechs had the lowest favorability rating towards the EU, at 34%, lower even than Greece’s 37%.

There are reams of additional findings that I haven’t touched on here, so it is worth reading the summary in full to get a good sense of the current public in the EU.

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