European dysfunction chart of the day, Greece vs Germany edition

By Felix Salmon
May 31, 2012
Mark Dow has found an astonishing set of results from a February opinion poll in Greece.

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Mark Dow has found an astonishing set of results from a February opinion poll in Greece; it’s hard to imagine that Greek attitudes to Germany have improved since then. Here’s just one of the 13 slides:

grge.tiff

The final question, in particular, renders rather unfunny the joke about the German Chancellor flying to Athens for some meetings, and being stopped at immigration. “Name?” she’s asked. “Angela Merkel.” “Occupation?” “No, I’m just here for a couple of days.”

For his part, Dow seizes on a different question — one which shows that 51% of Greeks attribute Germany’s strong economy to corruption, and only 18% attribute it to competitiveness. Greek public opinion, it seems, is decidedly of the view that the only way Greece can compete with Germany is to become a lot more corrupt.

Stephan Faris, in his profile of Alexis Tsipras’s far-left Syriza party, writes:

Tsipras possesses not just a deep knowledge of the Greek electorate but a populist’s knack for channeling mass emotion…

Polls show Greeks are pulled by two seemingly contradictory desires. Roughly two-thirds of the country opposes the bailout conditions. Yet almost 80 percent say they want to stay in the euro…

Tsipras’s demand that other EU countries — namely Germany — renegotiate the bailout deal on Athens’s terms reflects a seeming indifference to the very real failures in Greece’s economy.

Looking at the poll, I see something different. The overwhelming majority of the Greek electorate believes that Germany, quite literally, owes Greece money. In the decades since World War II, Greece has been waiting patiently for its rightful reparations — and instead it’s finding itself in the midst of another attempted takeover by Germany, a Fourth Reich. Looked at through this lens, the Syriza position doesn’t seem contradictory or indifferent to the realities of the Greek economy. Instead, it’s noble resistance to a dangerous hegemon.

All of which is to say that the relationship between Germany and Greece is irredeemably oppositional, at this point. The Germans think of Greeks as corrupt scroungers, who just want to live on the fruits of Germany’s productive labor; the Greeks think of Germany as, well Nazis. (Check out page 2 of the opinion poll: when asked “What is the first word that comes in your mind when you hear the word Germany?”, and given one spontaneous reply, 32% of Greeks said something about Hitler, Nazism, or the Third Reich. And in general, again, the overwhelming majority of answers were highly negative.

This is not, in any real sense, a European Union: if two people with these feelings for each other were married, everybody would agree that they should get divorced.

Looked at from the US, it’s easy to see Tsipras as playing a deeply tactical game: he’s advocating that Greece call Germany’s bluff, and thereby continue to get EU financing while reducing the amount of austerity that Greece has to impose on itself in return. But looking at this poll, I don’t see tactics: I think that Tsipras is simply reflecting very real Greek attitudes to Germany — attitudes which consider Germany to be not only fascist, but also deeply corrupt. If you think you’re owed money by such a country, you’re not going to be particularly willing to accept onerous bailout conditions in order to receive it.

All of which says to me that Grexit is inevitable, sooner or later. These two countries have pretty much nothing in common, bar their current currency. And now the tensions caused by that common currency are surfacing in particularly ugly ways. Before things get much worse, it would surely be better for both of them if Greece decided to go its own way.

And yet, there’s a silver lining, here. As far as I know, these attitudes to Germany are not shared by most people in Spain, or Portugal, or Italy. It makes sense for the EU to allow Greece to leave the euro, and then to put a big and credible firewall up around Iberia. Greece really is a special case. And the other 14 members of the euro, if they join together, still have the ability to remain together.

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Comments
27 comments so far

Having seen the opinions of Greeks regarding Germans, what’s your thoughts on the German proposal for a Geuro?

Posted by GRRR | Report as abusive

“And yet, there’s a silver lining, here. As far as I know, these attitudes to Germany are not shared by most people in Spain, or Portugal, or Italy.”

Not shared yet… Wait for another year of recession and +20% unemployment. Greece anti-German rhetoric started in 2010 and Merkel can share some of the blame for that turn of opinion with her negotiating style.

Europe can never be united like the USA so I can’t see the Euro surviving. This doesn’t mean that temporary measures won’t keep the common currency going for years to come but ultimately its toast.

Posted by hedonistbot | Report as abusive

If you live in New York or Massachusetts you subsidize a fellow American in Alabama or Mississippi very heavily. Every year you pay far more in federal taxes than you get back, thus funding large transfer payments from the wealthy and productive part of the country to the poor and less productive part of the country.

If you are a white person in Alabama or Mississippi you have, over the course of American history, had very negative feelings about Northerners. You fought a war to separate from the North at one point and then thought about them as occupiers. But you continue to accept those transfer payments.

This is the cost of being in a union, political and fiscal. The Germans want the union but don’t want to pay the cost. The Greeks want the union but don’t want to live in forced poverty in order to have it. Which is being more hypocritical? Both, I suspect.

But your analysis here I’m afraid is somewhat myopic. You yourself know that the problem is more than about whiny Greeks.

It’s true that Greek case is unique, and that the Greeks have made many mistakes, but if Germany does to Spain what it has done to Greece, in a few years Spanish attitudes to Germany will probably not be very different.

Posted by f.fursty | Report as abusive

Questions 3 and 4 are pertinent to the US situation, IMO. #3 is a morally neutral inquiry about the relative economic influence of Germany in the EZ. #4 is the same question, but assigns a morally sinister motive to it.

I bet if you asked the same questions in the US-ex-NY, and substituted Wall Street for Germany – you’d get results much closer than not to the Greek figures shown here. Good.

Posted by MrRFox | Report as abusive

“the Syriza position doesn’t seem contradictory or indifferent to the realities of the Greek economy. Instead, it’s noble resistance to a dangerous hegemon.”

What is your basis for this claim? Would it not be more accurate to say that Syriza is indifferent to the realities of the Greek economy AND it resents and despises Germany? And did it never occur to you that there is a causal connection between these positions?

That, I think, is what some of the other commentators are driving at. The Netherlands, for example, suffered more than Greece under German occupation, but does not hate Germany so virulently. But then, they are more prosperous than Greece. It is human nature to blame others for ones misfortunes, and when misfortune arrives, blame will soon follow.

Posted by Greycap | Report as abusive

I wonder to what extent the Greek sentiment of entitlement to reparations from Germany predates the Euro and how much disengenous rhetoric there was about Greece adopting the Euro. If this feeling is a recent phenomenon due to percieved outside influence it could have the effect like hedonistbot suggests. On the other hand it might be that Greeks percieved Euro membership (and the capital flows that resulted) as part of their entitled reperations from Germany. I think that’s more likely in which case it is unlikely to be transferred to Italy, Spain, Ireland and Portugal who never shared that sentiment and wouldn’t percieve the capital flows to be some kind of war reparation entitlement.

Posted by tuckerm | Report as abusive

The post-WWII project that spawned the EU was a laudable effort to avoid WWIII. It might even have worked if they hadn’t attempted a currency union in advance of a political union for which little realistic prospect existed at the time of the euro’s debut. If the euro era is viewed as the living-together phase to test the viability of a possible marriage via political union, I think we can safely assume that we don’t have to worry about choosing a wedding present. We might want to think about WWIII again, though. Not that there’s been any trouble in Europe since the 1940s. Or was it the 1990s?

Posted by TobyONottoby | Report as abusive

Not excusing the failings of Greek political leadership, or of the better off to pay their taxes, which is the main problem of Greece, I think it’s far from true to say taht e.g. the Netherlands suffered more than Greece. Half a million died of starvation in one year etc. Poland is probably a better comparison, and Poland is doing relatively well economically, but anit-German feeling is not far from the surface there either. Long before the Euro, as a tourist even I noticed a very strong anti-German feeling among everyday Greeks, to the extent of being unwilling to assist German tourists. .

Posted by fs8788 | Report as abusive

Not excusing the failings of Greek political leadership, or of the better off to pay their taxes, which is the main problem of Greece, I think it’s far from true to say taht e.g. the Netherlands suffered more than Greece. Half a million died of starvation in one year etc. Poland is probably a better comparison, and Poland is doing relatively well economically, but anit-German feeling is not far from the surface there either. Long before the Euro, as a tourist even I noticed a very strong anti-German feeling among everyday Greeks, to the extent of being unwilling to assist German tourists. .

Posted by fs8788 | Report as abusive

Well, Europe is a nation of deep nationalism even inside nations. Apparent friendship is more a matter of guarded tolerance for the most part. Inside Belgium Flemings and Walloons have very old rivalry that is essentially tribal. Inside Spain, Catalans and Basques violently claw for independence from the central government.

At the unguarded border between France and Germany, Germans generally keep to their side and French to theirs. Tensions run just below the surface and memories are long. German auto rental firms won’t let you drive into Italy, and this is often true of French ones also.

Spain had a better government under Napoleon than the despised Bourbons. Nevertheless, Spaniards rose up and gutted any French soldier they could lay hands on. Spain, like Italy and Greece, runs on pride not sense.

It may be possible for a new European Union to form out of the southern nations. They can create their own central bank. The northern nations can contract into the few that operate on roughly the same cultural page. That would be Germany, France, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland and perhaps Ireland. (Although Ireland would be better off to go the way of Iceland.)

Posted by BrPH | Report as abusive

@fs8788: its very easy to throw lies around in anonymity – when were your refused service from the Greeks- this is simply a lie.. Greece is the most hospitable country i ve ever been

This article is laughable and dangerous- plays with the national stereotypes in an over simplistic and ”american” way (so me one is a friend or an enemy sort of concept)

people in Germany and Greece have nothing to gain from this exchange of rumours- the author obviously promotes the anglosaxon agenda (divide and rule)

Posted by ipodamos | Report as abusive

Also – Just my opinion. I think public opinion in Greece is as crazy as a s**t-house rat.

My view of the current maneuverings in Greece is that politicians there are using public opinion. The priorities of politicians are to line their pockets and stay in power. And the way to do that right now is to blame everyone but Greeks themselves for the situation and continue to kick the can down the road.

The anti-reality ideas prevalent in Greece today remind me of nothing quite so much as Sarah Palin. Greece today is like if Sarah Palin had a following that was 90% of the population of America. Anti-reality, arrogant ignorance, systematic self-deception pretty much sums it up for Greece these days.

Posted by BrPH | Report as abusive

fs8788 -

Your observations are consistent with my own. While I’ve seen many instances of good relations among Europeans of all origins, I’ve also seen many instances of significant anti-German sentiment among the Dutch, the Italians, and the Spanish.

As a representative example of the challenge Europe has to overcome, consider the history, not quite faded beyond all living memory as yet, behind Picasso’s “Guernica.” Then add to that a sustantial presence in many European countries of unreformed fascists and neofascists on the one hand, real (in contrast to American fantasy) communists on the other hand, plus a smattering of regional nationalists, and you have a recipe to liven up any football (in the FIFA sense) rivalry. Now get them to share a currency. Bon appetit!

Posted by TobyONottoby | Report as abusive

The botom line is Germany should just say fine, and let Greece collapse under its own non-productivity. Maybe have a travel ban on Greece as awell so Gemrans stop spending vacation dollars there. See how many weeks it would take the Greek people to come crawling back to suckle just a bit longer at Germany’s teat?

How long do you think? 1 week, 2? The Greek people are just a disgrace. We should just give the land back to the Turks.

Posted by QCIC | Report as abusive

11 Million Greeks trying to ‘argue / fight’ with 81 Million strong Germans and the whole world is expected to be watching this drama with breathlessness; that is laughable. It is time to ‘move on’ over Greeks. With their lies, cooking of books, corruption and unwillingness to pay taxes and absolutely no desire to reform themselves; these megalomania folks need to be left behind. With their current thinking, they may even ask collecting fees from rest of the world for ‘Western Civilization’ ideas originated in Past Greek regimes!

Fact of the matter is Germany and Euro should not give to this ‘hostage drama’ of SYRIZA and need to be firm here. Europe missed when ‘Greek books’ were not checked and they were allowed in Euro. Time to be stern and not get distracted by all the melodrama unfolding in Greece. Doing ‘theater’ that is the only thing which is left with them.

Posted by umeshgeeta | Report as abusive

Why am I wrong on the following scenario? I assume I’m wrong, because if it had merit, why has it not been considered by the folk with their hands on the levers.

The governments of the largest economies in Europe including that of the United Kingdom spend more than $5 trillion every year. Instead of focusing on bailouts and other financial props, would it not calm the markets if these governments could pledge an allocation of a mere 2% of their budgetary expenditures over the next 12 months to the Greek economy? That would amount to more than $100 billion or a third of the Greek economy. If countries like the Unites States, Canada, other European countries not part of the monetary union, South Korea, Japan and China could be encouraged to make a similar pledge, the ratio could probably be lowered to well below 1%, an insignificant amount in terms of their expenditures but a huge confidence booster for a small economy like that of Greece. In future years the ratio could be reduced by 0.5% every year, until matters have stabilized in Greece. It is politically neutral because each country receives value in the form of a service or product in return.

Just one example, instead of holding governed-sponsored summits and conferences in Paris, Geneva or Rome next year, they could be redirected Greece.

I believe just the announcement of the pledge would totally diffuse the crisis. Short-sellers cannot fight the prospect of such a boost to the Greece economy. Confidence is everything.

In return, the Greeks needs to stop their internal squabbles and accept the austerity, which with this economic initiative would not be half as bad it currently seems.

Clearly, these bailouts are impossible to sustain. Without economic confidence it seems futile to try and plug the holes.

Posted by Sleuth51 | Report as abusive

Umm Sleuth, that is about as horrible an idea as I have heard.

A huge waste of money for no purpose, markets would tank everywhere but Greece.

Posted by QCIC | Report as abusive

ipodamos – I wasn’t talking about myself. I’m neither German nor Greek. Just a reflection from many happy holidays spent in Greece.

Anyway – why is it always the borrower’s fault, never the lender’s? Germany (like China, Sweden, Netherlands and as teh US between the wars – either has to accept to import more than it exports (otherwise its borrowers can’t pay back) or accept never being paid back. There is not third alternative.

Posted by fs8788 | Report as abusive

This is not, in any real sense, a European Union: if two people with these feelings for each other were married, everybody would agree that they should get divorced.

I don’t know. Don’t you think it might depend on the quality of things like the makeup sex?

Posted by marcelproust | Report as abusive

On the question of whether Spanish people have bad feelings towards Germany: not really from a historical perspective, but some from much more recent times. Everybody in Spain know that what’s dragging everything down is the housing bubble, I think the biggest in Europe. And what was driving the prices? Well, partly that the Germans were buying all those holiday homes with lots of German euros, at prices that the locals couldn’t possibly afford. Spanish people jokingly talked about a German invasion, but the jokes may get darker if Germany gets as nasty with Spain as they did with Greece. From a Spanish point of view, it could look like the Germans first destroyed the economy, then refused to help and instead blame the people they were screwing.

Posted by Doly | Report as abusive

First of all, wait for the results of the new elections. I’m pretty sure the last vote will have allowed a lot of Greeks to vent and show their feelings, yet now the reality of their choice hits home they will vote for more reasonably sensible viewpoints next time around.

As for the poll, well, we all know the Greeks like to exaggerate official statistics. That’s how they got into the Euro in the first place, by lying. So I don’t really think it shows the views of the Greek people. It’s probably been invented.

As for the US being more cohesive because it works together, doesn’t that ignore the fact that most voters vote for the politician who says he’s going to change Washington? Most of them hate anything that goes to or comes from That Place because they simply don’t trust them to look after anything other than their own interests. And let’s not talk about how the US lost its AAA credit rating after the Republicans played politics with the nation’s economy.

In Spain, a lot of the bubble came from Russian property developers and corruption at a local level. The blocks of now empty and unfinished flats were not all holiday homes.

As for choices, it isn’t a simple “austerity or leave the Euro” argument; they could also reform their economy at a structural level. There is a huge amount of bureaucracy, needless over-manning, and far too much public ownership of business sectors that would be far more competitive if they were privatised.

If Greece does leave the Euro, the ensuing chaos that followed would serve very well to keep Spain and Italy toeing the line and thereby avoid further crisis.

Posted by FifthDecade | Report as abusive

I forgot the China effect. A largescale transfer of manufacturing from the West to the East during a process of financial warfare to regain China’s hegemony over the rest of the World should not be ignored. The smaller, weaker economies will naturally be the first to go… If in doubt, read Sun Tsu’s “The Art of War” or Machiavelli’s “The Prince” or even some Confucius. They all point to the best General being able to humble his opposition without needing to go into battle.

Posted by FifthDecade | Report as abusive

I’m sure it’s just a typo, but: “the other 14 members of the euro”? 14? Did I miss some Xexits (Gexit, Spexit, Itexit…)?! ;)

Posted by CassiusKing | Report as abusive

This is very poor journalism(much to my surpise).

This newspaper is an extreme right paper that few people even know it. Actually it was the newspaper that made headlines with Merkel photoshoped as Hitler

Posted by alt.evan2 | Report as abusive

The actual numbers

http://www.europi.gr/circulation/panella dika/weekly/magazines/PWM_201220.htm

It is the last one on the list

Posted by alt.evan2 | Report as abusive

completely agree with “Vote for the Grexit” – this needs to happen

(quote) “Before things get much worse, it would surely be better if Greece decided to go its own way.
It makes sense for the EU to allow Greece to leave the euro…
Greece really is a special case.
And the other 14 members of the euro, if they join together, still have the ability to remain together.”

Someone in Greece voted for the neo-nazis – deep down it seems some Greeks secretly admire fascists in power wearing either a red or black t-shirt

Posted by scythe | Report as abusive

LOL! German propaganda of extreme nonsense.

Dean Plassaras

Posted by DeanPlassaras | Report as abusive
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