Does more Merkel mean less Europe?

If Angela Merkel’s astounding electoral success is owed to her synchrony with the average German, then there is every reason to suspect that the new government will not deviate much from the preferences of the median German voter

Head, ECFR Madrid
Senior Policy Fellow

If Angela Merkel’s astounding electoral success is owed to her synchrony with the average German, then there is every reason to suspect that the new government will not deviate much from the preferences of the median German voter.

 

Source: Germans’ Views on Europe, Open Europe/You Gov, September 2013.

As the German chancellor tries to set up a government, in coalition or in minority, the rest of Europe wonders what the new government’s European policy will look like. But one thing is sure, if Angela Merkel’s astounding electoral success is owed to her synchrony with the average German, then there is every reason to suspect that the new government will not deviate much from the preferences of the median German voter. What Germans think about Europe and what the impact of the crisis has been on their views of the EU then are relevant questions for the future.

Polls show an important drop in trust in the EU. While in May 2007 a majority of Germans (57 percent) tended to trust in the EU, today confidence has dropped to only 29 percent [see Eurobarometer Spring 2013 poll]. A recent poll published by Open Europe conducted by YouGov Deutschland shows similar results: the least trusted political institutions in Germany are the European Parliament (33 percent) and the European Commission (30 percent).

This does not make Germany exceptional: since the onset of the euro crisis, confidence in the EU has dramatically decreased across all of the EU [see ECFR’s recent policy memo “The continent-wide rise of euroscepticisim”]. What makes Germany different is that, contrary to southern Europe, where the loss of trust in the EU has ran in parallel with the decrease of confidence in national institutions (whether governments or parliaments), in Germany, the crisis has resulted in a strengthening of the confidence in national institutions. In the YouGov poll, the German Bundestag and government show a robust level of trust (45 percent and 44 percent, respectively), a trend that is also visible in Eurobarometer polls. This result contrasts quite dramatically with the situation in Spain, for instance, where only 8 percent of its citizens trust the government and even less (7 percent) the parliament.

This loss of trust in the EU in Germany comes with a consequence. Whilst a large majority of Germans are still in favour of a European economic and monetary union with one single currency, a very clear majority of Germans (50 percent in favour, 26 percent against) would support Chancellor Merkel devolving power to member states (see graph above).

In this poll, 41 percent would like Brussels to have fewer powers (see graph below). More specifically, a majority of Germans want to reduce Germany’s contribution to the EU budget and think that the EU should have less involvement in some policy areas: regional development, agricultural subsidies, criminal justice, data protection, and employment laws, among others. Moreover, six in ten (60 percent) consider that national parliaments should be given more powers to block unwanted EU laws.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: Germans’ Views on Europe, Open Europe/You Gov, September 2013.

This data points at the opening of a gap, which will make the closing of the eurocrisis more difficult. While, in theory, the roadmap signed by the four presidents (European Council, European Commission, ECB, and Eurogroup) in December 2012 pointed at the need of transferring more powers and authority to the EU institutions in order to complete monetary union with a banking, fiscal, and economic union, the appetite for that among key publics, especially in Germany, may actually be quite low. Whereas southern European countries may be angry with the EU, the low appreciation they have for their national political institutions makes them more likely to accept “more Europe” as a solution to their problems.

At the other end, Germany, together with other creditor countries, don´t seem to quite see Europe as the solution but a problem in itself. Three out of every four Germans are happy with the way their democracy works, compared to only one out of every four in Spain [see the 2014 European Parliament Eurobarometer]. Since the crisis started, 20 governments have been ousted but Merkel's has been re-elected. The message that electorates all across Europe are sending is clear: stay close to our preferences or we will vote you out. So, to produce “more Europe”, Merkel would have to go against the wishes of the majority of Germans. Will she do that? It’s still too early to say.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.

Author

Head, ECFR Madrid
Senior Policy Fellow