Merkel's Crisis Response Reveals Widening Divide: Survey

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s handling of the euro-area debt crisis continues to win her support in northern Europe, while southerners increasingly blame her for their countries’ economic woes, a poll showed.

Merkel’s economic policies won the approval of 73 percent of respondents in the Netherlands, 64 percent in Germany and 59 percent in Sweden, according to a poll released today by the German Marshall Fund of the United States. Dissatisfaction with the German leader was at 82 percent in Spain and 65 percent in Portugal, up from 63 percent and 61 percent last year.

“The economic crisis and its management have come to dominate the entire debate about Europe’s future,” said Constanze Stelzenmueller, the fund’s senior trans-Atlantic fellow. While northern Europeans seem to have accepted Merkel’s “highly pragmatic” response to the crisis, there’s “reason to be worried” about the discrepancies between north and south, she said. “There’s a debate to be had about what is the right policy here.”

Merkel’s leadership of the German and euro-area responses to the debt crisis has been one of the main focuses of her campaign to be re-elected chancellor on Sept. 22. She has consistently said that southern European crisis countries must implement budget cuts and structural reforms. The European Commission forecast on May 3 that Germany’s economy would grow 0.4 percent in 2013, compared with contractions of 4.2 percent in Greece, 2.3 percent in Portugal and 1.5 percent in Spain.

National budgets

The survey showed that increasing numbers of voters are against moves to give the European Commission greater control over national budgets. Across Europe, 68 percent were against handing over more power, up 11 percentage points from last year. In Germany, 37 percent believe the commission should exercise control over national economic policy, a decrease of 16 percentage points.

Less than a third of respondents in euro-area countries want to abandon the single currency. About 30 percent in Spain, 27 percent in France and Portugal and 24 percent in Italy shared that view.

Other highlights of the survey:

Handling of economy: Voters’ dissatisfaction with their government’s handling of the economy has increased since last year, with the largest change in France, where the proportion rose to 74 percent from 57 percent.

EU membership: Belief that the EU has been good for the economy is in decline, particularly in countries most affected by the crisis. Support in Portugal for EU membership dropped to 49 percent from 69 percent.

Free-Trade Talks

Trans-Atlantic trade: 56 percent of respondents in Europe, 28 percent in Turkey and 49 percent in the U.S. said that increased trans-Atlantic trade and investment would help their economies grow. The survey was being carried out when, on June 14, EU countries authorized the European Commission, the bloc’s regulatory arm, to start talks with the U.S. on a free-trade agreement.

Iranian nuclear dispute: 32 percent of respondents in Europe, 27 percent in Turkey and 29 percent in the U.S. said economic sanctions on Iran are the best way to stop the country from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Obama’s foreign policy: 69 percent of respondents in Europe, 35 percent in Turkey and 50 percent in the U.S. said they approved of President Barack Obama’s international policies. This compared with 71 percent, 42 percent and 54 percent, respectively, last year.

Opposition to China: For the first time, the study asked people what they thought about the prospect of Chinese “global leadership.” In Europe, 65 percent found it undesirable, compared with 72 percent in Turkey and 47 percent in the U.S.

The annual survey of 13,000 people was conducted in 11 EU countries, Turkey and the U.S. June 3-27, although in Turkey the interviews extended to July 2. The margin of error was 3 percentage points.

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