European unity on the rockson May 30th, 2012 at 8:00 am
Greeks and Germans at polar opposites
In Europe, what started out four years ago as a sovereign debt crisis, morphed into a euro currency crisis and led to the fall of several European governments, has now triggered a full-blown crisis of public confidence: in the economy, in the future, in the benefits of European economic integration, in membership in the European Union, in the euro and in the free market system. The public is very worried about joblessness, inflation and public debt, and those fears are fueling much of this uncertainty and negativity.
Europeans largely oppose further fiscal austerity to deal with the crisis. They are divided on bailing out indebted nations. They oppose Brussels’ impending oversight of national budgets. At the same time, Europeans who now use the euro have no desire to abandon it and return to their former currency. And anti-German sentiment is largely contained to Greece, at least for the moment.
The crisis has exposed sharp differences between some Europeans. Germany is the most admired nation in the EU and its leader the most respected. The Germans are judged to be Europe’s most hardworking people. And the Germans are the strongest supporters of both European economic integration and the European Union.
Greece is the polar opposite. None of its fellow EU members surveyed see it in a positive light. In turn, Greeks are among the most disparaging of European economic integration and the harshest critics of the European Union. And they see themselves as Europe’s most hardworking people.
These are among the key findings from a new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, conducted in eight EU nations and the United States among 9,108 respondents from March 17 to April 16.
European Unity in Trouble
The European project, which began with the creation of a small Common Market in 1957, grew to a larger Single Market in 1992 and then created a single currency in 2002, is a major casualty of the ongoing European sovereign debt crisis.
Across the eight European Union member countries surveyed, a median of only 34% think that European economic integration has strengthened their country’s economy. Indeed, majorities or near majorities in most nations now believe that the economic integration of Europe has actually weakened their economies. This is the opinion in Greece (70%), France (63%), Britain (61%), Italy (61%), the Czech Republic (59%) and Spain (50%). Only in Germany (59%) do most people say that their country has been well served by European integration.
Among the five euro area nations surveyed, a median of only 37% believes having the euro as their currency has been a good thing. This includes just 30% of the Italians and 31% of the French. At the same time, the three non-euro zone countries surveyed are quite happy they have kept their own currencies, including nearly three-quarters of the British (73%).
A median of about four-in-ten Europeans (39%) surveyed think favorably of the European Central Bank, the institution at the center of the debate over how to deal with the euro crisis. That includes just 15% of the Greeks, 25% of the Spanish and only 40% of the Germans.
Moreover, as public criticism of European unity grows, faith in its benefits and institutions erodes. Since 2009, belief that European economic integration, the raison d’être of the European Union, has weakened their national economy has grown by 22 percentage points in the Czech Republic, 20 points in Italy, and 18 points in Spain. And, since 2007, the favorability of the European Union as an organization has fallen 20 points in Spain and the Czech Republic, 19 points in Italy and 14 points in Poland.
Among the Europeans surveyed, only in Germany is there a growing majority that believes that integration has been an economic boon for the nation and a strong majority that says EU membership has been good. And only in Poland, a non-euro zone country that is also not a member of the European Central Bank, does more than half have a favorable opinion of that institution.
Nevertheless, the symbols of a united Europe retain public support. Despite the falloff in EU favorability, most Europeans surveyed still see the European Union in a positive light, including 69% of the Poles, 68% of the Germans and 60% of the French and Spanish. And more than half in all five euro area countries surveyed – including 71% of the Greeks, 69% of the French and 66% of the Germans – would like to keep the euro as their currency and not return to the drachma, the franc, the mark or other national currencies.
The euro crisis has also undermined support for free market capitalism. Solid majorities in only three of the eight countries surveyed – Germany 69%, Britain 61%, and France 58% – still believe that people are better off in a free market system. Moreover, since 2007, before the global financial crisis began, belief in capitalism is down 23 percentage points in Italy, 20 points in Spain, 15 points in Poland, 11 points in Britain, and nine points in the Czech Republic. In comparison, over that same time frame backing for the free market has remained relatively unchanged in the United States.