A new survey of European public opinion shows that the continent’s financial and employment crises are jeopardizing European integration. In just the last year, overall support for the European Union fell from 60% to 45%, PewResearch’s Global Attitudes Project found (CR in this chart is the Czech Republic):
And yet, Europeans still prefer the euro to their old national currencies:
What explains this divergence? The poll’s authors point to a growing wedge between German public opinion and that in the rest of the EU. The French, like the Spaniards, Italians and Greeks, are becoming more pessimistic about the future and more convinced that unemployment is the continent’s most pressing problem. That is, they’re splitting off from their creditor, Germany, about the efficacy of Europe’s political institutions.
The fact that public opinion has not, however, turned against the euro itself is no accident. European economic integration is as much a political project concerned with the continent’s balance of power as it is an exercise in creating an optimal currency union. As Neil Irwin notes in his book on recent financial crises, The Alchemists, the French only supported the reunification of East and West Germany on the condition that Germany join a supranational currency.
What these polls imply, then, is that the peripheral economies believe that Germany and the European institutions will feel bound to promote recovery within the framework of the single currency. Put more simply, they are counting on bailouts. The danger, however, is that, as Matthew O’Brien warns, “the politics will turn against the common currency long before that.”
On a lighter note, Pew also came up with a revealing chart of European stereotypes. Germany clearly occupies a special place in everyone’s heart, but our kudos go to Italy as the only country not to pick itself for “least arrogant”—and the only one to pick itself as “least trustworthy.”