The Economy

Beware of Greeks Daring Rifts

A new survey reveals the intractable differences between the Greeks’ desire to remain in the euro and their dislike of the EU, the European Central...
Andrew SawersJune 1, 2012

If you’re looking for the least surprising headline of the month, then “Greeks and Germans at Polar Opposites” has to be one of the best. But this no-news header comes from a recent research report that contains some useful insight into how different European nationals think. In particular, it sheds light on the difficulty of trying to resolve the ongoing euro crisis, not only because of conflicting views across Europe but also because of contradictory opinions within individual nations.

Take Greece, for example. The survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center at the end of May,  found that almost half of Greeks regard the euro as “a good thing.” In this, they are even ahead of Germany (44%), as well as Spain (37%), France (31%), and Italy (30%).

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Moreover, of the five countries surveyed that are part of the euro, they are more in favor of retaining it (71%) than any other country and more opposed to reverting to a domestic currency (23%). Interestingly, almost a third of Germans would like to revert to the deutschemark.

And yet Greeks take a very dim view of the European Central Bank, with just 15% regarding it favorably.  Furthermore, not even one in five believes integration with the European Union has helped their economy in fact, 70% say it has been economically harmful. And apart from the Czechs, the Greeks have the lowest opinion of the EU generally.

The survey was conducted in March and April, in the run-up to Greece’s inconclusive May 6 elections. As Greece prepares to go to the polls again on June 17, with the leftist, antiausterity Syriza party ahead of the conservative New Democracy in some opinion polls, some are badging this rematch as a referendum on Greece’s continuing membership in the euro. And yet, as the Pew Research Center findings show, there is a fundamental dichotomy between the apparent Greek liking for the euro and the antipathy toward the EU and the European Central Bank.

There are also signs of a fundamental self-deluding failure to grasp the implications of euro membership. In total, eight EU nations were surveyed (those mentioned above plus Britain, Poland, and the Czech Republic, which are not members of the euro). Seven of themincluding the Germansregard the Germans as the hardest-working people. In Greece, they think Greeks are the most hardworking. This will come as a surprise to those in Britain, Germany, Spain, Poland, and the Czech Republic, all of whom put the Greeks at the bottom of the scale. (The one thing they could all agree upon was that Germans were the least corrupt.)

Apart from Spain, Greece is the only country in the survey where less than half the population believes in the virtues of a free-market economy. It is also the one economy that stands out in failing to praise German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her management of the economy: just 14% of Greeks found favor with her, compared with 80% of Germans (and a strong majority in the other European countries). A majority (57%) actually said she was doing a “very bad job.” In fact, it gets worse than that: fully 78% of Greeks have a “very unfavorable” view of Germany as a whole.

The Greeks, says the report, are “isolated”: “They are the most supportive of bailouts and among the most opposed to outsiders looking over their shoulder as they prepare their national budget.” Fully 91% of Greeks are in favor of bailouts, whereas just 49% of Germans support such measures. Three-quarters of Greeks are also opposed to giving the EU more power over national budgets: “Such budgetary deferral to Brussels is a key element in the European Union Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Unionknown as the Fiscal Pactthat comes into force January 1, 2013,” the report explains.

Long before next January, however, Greeks will have to resolve their near-irreconcilable differences with the rest of the EU, and especially with Germany, and decide how their country is to be governed and their economy managed. If they can’t find a solution that doesn’t require the continued support of the EU, the European Central Bank, and Germany, they will have to reexamine their feelings toward those who have the best chance of giving the Greeks what they appear to want above all else: to remain in the euro.

Andrew Sawers is editor of CFO European Briefing, a CFO online publication.