A majority of Europeans believe the German star is fading, a new survey has revealed, as the country prepares to live without Angela Merkel.
The poll, published ahead of the German federal elections on September 26, shows that 34% of Europeans polled think the best is behind the country.
Germans are the most pessimistic of the dozen EU countries surveyed, with 52% seeing their nation as a declining power, according to the poll released by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) think tank.
Majorities in eight other countries – Austria, Hungary, Poland, Italy, the Netherlands, France, Bulgaria and Denmark – all agreed.
Most Spanish respondents think Germany’s golden age is now, while Bulgaria and Hungary have the highest proportion of people thinking the country’s best times are yet to come.
“Without Merkel, the foundations for Germany’s leadership role in the EU will be considerably weaker – unless the new government implements a credible strategy that goes beyond Merkelism,” writes ECFR in an analysis accompanying the survey.
“If many Europeans think that Germany’s star is fading, it could undermine their confidence in Berlin. Their positive attitudes towards Merkel’s Germany seem to have a lot to do with the country’s stable economic growth and the weak unemployment rate over the past two decades despite difficult economic conditions in Europe. “
The Germans interviewed also lack confidence in their country’s ability to lead the countries of the European Union in key areas.
It was only in the area of democracy and human rights that more than a third of Germans believed the country could provide European leadership.
In areas like defense and security, only 20% believed in Berlin, far less than the combined total of other European countries surveyed (29%). The same was true for economic and financial matters, with 37% of Europeans trusting Berlin, over 31% of Germans.
“At the same time, the Germans are not afraid of relapsing into nationalism,” writes the ECFR. In turn, 36% of Germans expect their country to focus even more on helping other Europeans, significantly more than the 25% of respondents in the other countries surveyed. Therefore, Germans have a fairly positive image of their own intentions but do not seem to believe that their country’s ability to show leadership is a prerequisite for the reliability and support of other member states. In the post-Merkel era, this may not be the right conclusion. The Germans may have to shake off their doubts about Germany’s leadership because other Europeans are counting on him to achieve it. “
After four electoral victories and 16 years as the head of the EU’s largest economy, the incumbent German leader is expected to bow out following national elections later this month.
ECFR survey suggests Merkel will be missed: she enjoys broad support among Europeans, with many citizens in the region claiming that she would be their favorite candidate if she ran for the presidency of Europe against Frenchman Emmanuel Macron.
Across Europe, 41% of those polled said they would like to see Merkel as president, while only 14% would opt for her French counterpart Macron.
“Merkel’s popularity trumps that of Macron in different parts of the EU – including the Netherlands (58%), Spain (57%), Portugal (52%) and Denmark (46% ) – demonstrating its success in positioning Germany as a unifying power, “found the think tank.
“Angela Merkel has become the epitome of a strong and stable Germany – positioning herself as the anchor point for Europe through more than a decade of crises,” said Piotr Buras, co-author of the report and Head of the Warsaw office of ECFR.
“But while European citizens place their hopes on Berlin to lead the bloc, it is a legacy with which the Germans themselves are not entirely comfortable,” he added.
The report’s authors say the poll suggests changes are needed in Germany’s role in the EU.
“The main challenge, for whoever wins next week’s elections, will be convincing the Germans that a serious change is needed in the way their country engages with the EU,” said Jana Puglierin, co- author and senior policy researcher at ECFR.
Puglierin and Buras argue that Germany’s future ruler may need to take a stronger stance against countries that violate European values while fighting for the bloc’s position in the world.
“Gone are the days when Europe could look to the United States for leadership and protection,” writes ECFR.
“What the EU needs now is a visionary Germany that will defend the values of the bloc and defend its place in the world,” said Buras.