Germany: Engine of Europe

Germany's Angela Merkel remains globally popular … just not in austerity-hit Greece

Key Points
  • Germany's long-serving chancellor, Angela Merkel, is preparing to leave office after 16 years in power.
  • Unlike most leaders, public opinion regarding Merkel remains mostly positive.
  • She is not universally like in Europe, however, given Germany's insistence on austerity measures on poorer, southern European countries.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany's federal parliament, or Bundestag, back in 2015.
Adam Berry | Getty Images News | Getty Images

As Germany's long-serving chancellor, Angela Merkel, prepares to leave office after 16 years in power, global popular opinion of her remains overwhelmingly positive — a feat not often achieved by departing global leaders.

Polls of over 17,000 people in 16 advanced economies around the world from North America to Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, conducted by the Pew Research Center, found that public confidence in Merkel is high. In the surveys, 77% of respondents expressed confidence in Merkel to "do the right thing regarding world affairs," while 79% overall had a favorable view of Germany.

"Majorities in nearly every public surveyed have confidence in Merkel to do the right thing in world affairs, including nine-in-ten in the Netherlands and Sweden," Pew's Janell Fetterolf and Shannon Schumacher said on the findings, which were based on surveys conducted from Feb. to May.

"Merkel has enjoyed generally high ratings in a number of countries since she first took office, with confidence growing as more people became familiar with her over time. In most places surveyed, trust in the German chancellor has never been higher," they added.

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel with the then-US President Barack Obama on November 18, 2016 in Berlin.
Tobias Schwarz | AFP | Getty Images

Merkel currently enjoys the highest confidence ratings of the five world leaders asked about in the survey. She receives considerably higher marks than Russian President Vladimir Putin or Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Merkel also fares well compared with French President Emmanuel Macron and, in many places, U.S. President Joe Biden.

Positive views of Germany, mostly

The Pew polls, which did not include any data from Germany, show that the majority of people in Europe, North America and the Asia-Pacific region have very positive views of Germany, opinions only bolstered by the country's apparently calm and collected approach to the Covid-19 crisis.

A median of 79% across 16 publics have a favorable opinion of Germany, while only 16% have an unfavorable one. Germany is also viewed more positively than the U.S. and China in most countries surveyed too.

How Angela Merkel changed Germany — and the world
How Angela Merkel changed Germany — and the world

In several of the European countries polled, Pew has gauged the level of favorable (or unfavorable) opinion toward Germany prior to Merkel taking office in 2006. It noted that in some countries like the U.K., Spain and France, views of Germany have not changed much over the past two decades.

"Roughly seven-in-ten or more have expressed a positive opinion of Germany in Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain, France and the U.K. in each year this question has been asked," Pew noted.

In the last year or so, however, favorable views of Germany and Merkel have been influenced, at least in part, by perceptions of how Germany handled the coronavirus outbreak, it noted.

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel greets the crowds in Frankfurt, Germany.
Thomas Lohnes | Getty Images News | Getty Images

A median of 66% say Germany did a good job dealing with the outbreak, and again, Germany fares well in comparison with other countries and institutions.

"Germany's coronavirus response is generally viewed more positively than the responses of the World Health Organization, China, the EU or the U.S. And people who think Germany has handled the outbreak well are much more likely to have a favorable view of Germany and confidence in Merkel in every public surveyed.'

No love from Greece

While Merkel has helped to steer Europe through several crises, from the euro zone's financial crisis around a decade ago to the migration crisis of 2015 and more recently, the Covid pandemic, she is not universally liked.

Merkel has been accused by critics of ducking some tough decisions. such as the need to tackle climate change and the need for infrastructure spending in Germany, and she has also been accused of prioritizing Germany's economic wellbeing at the expense of others in the euro zone.

Her pragmatic approach to global affairs, particularly those concerning finances, has not always won her friends.

This was no more obvious than in Pew's findings in Greece, where only 30% of respondents had confidence in Merkel to do the right thing in global affairs and where only 32% had a favorable view of Germany.

Protesters demonstrate against the visit of Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel on April 11, 2014 in Athens, Greece.
Milos Bicanski | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Public dislike for Merkel is strong in Greece since the country's sovereign debt crisis a decade ago, as Germany advocated that strict austerity measures should be imposed on Athens as a condition of international bailouts.

"On nearly every assessment, Greece stands out for its particularly negative views of both Germany and Merkel. Only around a third of Greeks have confidence in the German chancellor or a favorable view of Germany, though a majority give it good marks for its handling of the coronavirus outbreak," Pew's report noted.

Compared with other countries in Europe, more people in Greece said Germany has too much influence in the EU (86%) too.

Pew noted that negative views of Germany in Greece have been evident since it started surveying there in 2012, just after Greece received a second bailout in response to the European debt crisis and while tensions between the two countries were high.