What Europeans think of each other
IT IS not hard to find reasons why disaffection with the European Union might be growing within Europe. GDP in the euro area has declined for the sixth successive quarterand unemployment is running at record levels in many countries. Germany resents bailing out profligate neighbours and its relationship with France, which has just slipped into recession, is at a low ebb. In Britain, the Conservative prime minister faces one of the periodic uprisings from within his party against membership of the EU. Nonetheless, it is sobering to see a new survey on public opinion in Europe by the Pew Research Centre confirming much of this disgruntlement, and more besides.
When people in eight countries were asked about monetary union and EU membership, fewer were in favour of either than they were when asked a year ago. But it was a question on attitudes to one another that was arguably most revealing, exposing lingering stereotyping, some historical mistrust and a bit of modern-day resentment about economic power. It also appeared to confirm a puzzling finding from a similar Pew survey a year ago: that Greeks’ perception of themselves is out of kilter with everyone else’s.
As the table shows, when asked to name the most trustworthy nation, every country voted for Germany except for the Greeks. Instead, they awarded themselves that accolade, while casting Germany as the most arrogant and least compassionate nation. (In the 2012 poll, Greeks considered themselves to be the most hardworking, to general bemusement.) However, this antipathy towards Germany is understandable. As the main paymaster for the euro area, Germany is blamed for the strict austerity measures imposed on Greece as a condition for bailing out the country. These have resulted in a cycle of declining growth, weakening demand and real hardship. Indeed, Germany’s economic dominance is reflected in its several nominations as the most arrogant and least compassionate country.
Another striking finding is the dichotomy of opinion within countries. The Poles nominated Germany as both the most and least trustworthy nation, possibly dividing among older Poles with memories of war and younger ones who admire its reputation for prudence. The French, too, appear to be in two minds about their own arrogance—though the Brits are in no doubt about it. In a telling answer, Italians are most mistrustful of one another, perhaps aware that their country ranks badly on international corruption measures. Slovaks may not know whether to be (quietly) proud or slightly miffed that they are named the most humble nation by their bigger neighbour and one-time compatriots, the Czechs.