Europe News

Germans Write Off Greece, Says Poll

Peter Spiegel in Brussels

Only a quarter of Germans think Greece should stay in the eurozone or get more help from other countries in the currency union, a Financial Times/Harris poll has found.

A European Union flag, left, hangs beside a Greek national flag beneath the Parthenon temple on Acropolis hill in Athens, Greece.
Simon Dawson | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The overwhelming verdict highlights Angela Merkel’s domestic dilemma as she comes under pressure in Europe to agree more time or money for Greece to get its €174bn second bailout back on track.

Negative German sentiment, detailed in the poll conducted in August, stands in marked contrast to that in Italy and Spain, where respondents were far more reluctant to cut Athens loose.

The diverging views pose a big challenge to EU leaders who this month must again grapple with how to deal with a new Greek government poised to ask for two more years to implement painful economic and government reforms demanded by international lenders as part of their three-year bailout programme.

Senior officials estimate that the Greek programme has already slipped by up to €20bn since it was agreed in February because of a worsening economic climate and official stasis in Athens through two rounds of divisive national elections. A decision on how to fill that gap must be made before an already-overdue €31bn aid payment is distributed next month.

The FT/Harris poll of 1,000 adults in Germany, Italy, Spain, France and Britain showed that while there were significant disagreements between northern and southern Europe over several aspects of the eurozone crisis, Greece was most divisive. Only 26 per cent of Germans believed Greece “will ever repay its bailout loans”, compared with 77 per cent of Italians and 57 per cent of Spaniards. Similarly, nearly half of Germans did not think Greece would ever be able to reform its economy sufficiently to free itself from international assistance, while 88 per cent of Italians and 70 per cent of Spaniards were at least “somewhat confident” they could.

In France, opinion towards Greece was much more mixed. While only 32 per cent of French respondents thought Greece should leave the eurozone – compared with 54 per cent of Germans, against the 27 per cent who believe it should stay – they were as reluctant as their German counterparts to provide Athens with extra assistance.

Only 25 per cent of French adults said they believed “other eurozone members should do more” to keep Greece in the currency union, almost identical to the 26 per cent of Germans. French respondents were equally pessimistic as Germans about Greece’s ability to free itself from international assistance, though they were slightly more optimistic that Greece would eventually repay its bailout loans.

Despite the divisions over Greece, adults in all four eurozone countries remained optimistic that their leaders would be able to address the problems raised by the crisis, with Italians proving the most upbeat, with 83 per cent responding that they were at least “somewhat confident” in leaders’ ability, and Spaniards the least, at 63 per cent.

Britons, however, were far less hopeful than their continental counterparts, with 44 per cent saying they were “not at all confident” that policy makers would address the crisis.

Britons also shared the pessimistic views of Germans towards Greece, but sharply differed over whether austerity measures would help solve the overall crisis. Only 29 per cent of Britons thought austerity measures were having a “negative impact” on the eurozone crisis, while overwhelming majorities in Germany, France Italy and Spain believed they were.