More than two years into a euro crisis that has toppled governments and sown economic pain, citizens of five euro zone countries — including Greece — say the euro has not been a good thing for them, but nevertheless do not want to go back to their old currencies, according to a survey to be released Tuesday.
Greece, the country most at risk of falling out of the euro, typified the contradiction. There, people were most likely to say that their country had been weakened by European economic integration. Yet support for the euro was highest, the poll found, perhaps showing Greek preferences as they head into new parliamentary elections on June 17 that could determine their future in the currency union.
In fact, despite the financial troubles currently facing Europe, majorities in the five euro zone countries in the survey favored keeping the single currency, ranging from 52 percent in Italy to 71 percent in Greece, according to the poll, which was carried out by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project.
The survey did not explain the seeming contradiction in people’s attitudes, but Bruce Stokes, director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center in Washington, suggested that risk aversion might play a role.
“They realize it would be a leap into the dark” to lose the euro, he said.
The survey covered the eight countries in all with 75 percent of the 500 million people in the European Union: Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Greece, which are part of the euro area, and Britain, Poland and Czech Republic, which are not. Questions were asked from March 17 to April 16 of about 1,000 people in each country; the margin of sampling error ranged from plus or minus three to four percentage points.
The poll also showed Germany to be the most admired country and its leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel, to be the most respected, despite her unrelenting push for more fiscal rectitude across the Europe. Least admired was Greece.
And support for providing bailouts to crisis-stricken countries diverged in what seemed to be a reversal of popular perceptions.
The poll found that 49 percent of Germans were in favor of providing aid, up from 42 percent when the question was asked two years ago. Stokes noted that the opposition Social Democrats and the Greens, who have been rising in opinion polls there, have been largely supportive of European integration and rescuing the euro, something that is not generally reflected in statements by Merkel and her center-right government.
In France, where concern about that country’s economic situation has grown, support for bailouts slid to 44 percent, from 53 percent in spring 2010.
“There’s a direct connection between your perception of the economy and your perception of integration,” Stokes said. “Right now, people are in the midst of a declining economy and very upset about it, and it appears that it influences their willingness to help each other, which has consequences.”
Germany's Economy Holding Up
Doubts about the benefits of membership in the European Union seem to be growing almost everywhere as the euro crisis drags on, indicating fresh political risks for European leaders debating how to stabilize the currency and secure the bloc’s future.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the exception to the trend was Germany, where the economy has held up relatively well and unemployment is at a post-unification low.
Despite the virtual collapse of the Greek economy, the percentage of Greeks who said having the euro has been a “good thing” for their country was 46 percent, with the rest roughly divided between “bad thing” or “neither.” In Italy, just 30 percent called it a good thing, and just 31 percent in France.
For a rough comparison, the autumn 2011 Eurobarometer, done for the European Commission, found 53 percent of people across the Europe in favor of the single currency, down from 63 percent in the spring of 2007, before the global financial crisis began.
Asked what kind of threat the economic problems in countries like Greece and Italy posed to them at home, 71 percent in Germany and 64 percent in France said it would be major. (The question was also asked in the United States, where only 41 percent called the threat major, Pew found.)
How to address the crisis has become a dividing point in Europe. Nicolas Sarkozy, who formed a close partnership with Merkel in directing Europe’s response to the euro crisis response, lost his bid for re-election as president of France this month to the Socialist candidate, François Hollande, who emphasized growth over austerity.
Merkel got higher marks from the French in the Pew survey for her handling of the economic crisis than Sarkozy, 76 percent compared to 56 percent. She came in on top in seven of the eight countries, and the lowest in Greece, where only 14 percent approved of her performance (Sarkozy got 17 percent there).
Merkel “seems to be the only point of reference when it comes to stability,” Rafal Trzaskowski, a Polish member of the European Parliament and lecturer on European affairs, said by e-mail. “But the criticism of Merkel is also on the rise — she should have reacted earlier, with more zest, and shoulder the burden in a more decisive way.”
Many people in Greece are aware that the German economy has benefited most from the euro and that German banks played a role in getting Greece into the mess it is in, he said, but now people can hear the same in France and “sometimes even in Poland.”
The strains of the last few years have taken the shine off European Union membership even in the new member states. In Poland, only 48 percent said it was a “good thing,” compared with 63 percent in 2009. In the Czech Republic, support fell to 28 percent from 45 percent in 2009.
“In times of crisis” people in general trust the European Union less, Trzaskowski said. In Poland, support for adopting the euro has also dropped because people see its construction as having been flawed and also believe that the Poland’s currency, the zloty, has played a role in cushioning the impact of the global financial crisis on the Polish economy, he added.