Germany’s political strength within the EU was solidified with the election of Ursula von der Leyen as President of the European Commission. Von der Leyen had been the longest serving member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet between 2005 and 2019. Berlin is also chairing the current EU Council presidency until December 2020, providing further clout to the nation’s power within the bloc. In the latest poll conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies, 70% of respondents in Spain and 69% of respondents in Italy thought Germany had too much power in the EU.

In contrast, only 19% of German respondents felt their nation had too much power in the EU. Moreover, a clear plurality (45%) of French respondents considered that Germany had too much power, despite their nation often being considered a key partner of Germany at the centre of the bloc’s power base.

The sentiment that Germany has too much power over the EU and its institutions has remained level since Redfield & Wilton first asked a similar question in June. Similar to July, a majority of 71% of respondents in Spain and 66% of respondents in Italy agreed that Germany had too much control. In June, 47% of French respondents considered that Germany has far too much control over the European Union and its institutions, and a quarter (25%) of Germans believed that their country had far too much control over the European Union and its institutions. These figures are broadly comparable to those from our latest poll in July.

This earlier poll was conducted as the EU bloc negotiated a stimulus package to mitigate the economic fall-out of the coronavirus pandemic. The original proposal was for €750 billion in the form of grants and loans, which would be funded jointly across all EU countries but would be given to the member states most affected by the coronavirus, especially Italy and Spain.

A clear plurality (47%) of Italian respondents felt the size of the bailout package was just right, yet 26% thought it was not large enough. In Spain, a plurality (42%) also thought that the amount of support pledged was about right, however 30% of respondents did not think it was large enough. In France, the plurality of respondents (36%) actually said that they did not know what the best amount for the package would be, which may indicate that the French public is not affected by the deal as much as the Italian or Spanish public. Nevertheless, a third (33%) of French respondents thought the stimulus package was the right size. [1]

After more than ninety hours of talks (the longest EU summit since 2000), the EU finally agreed to a €750bn package consisting primarily of €390bn in grants mainly for Italy and Spain. The bloc will also support other member states through €360bn worth of low-interest loans. The package was initially opposed by a coalition of northern European countries known as the ‘Frugal Five’, which consisted of Denmark, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Finland. Unusually for a German leader, and in contrast to her actions during the 2010 bailout of Greece when she shunned shared debt in favour of loans, Merkel did not side with her northern European neighbours. Instead, she championed the cause of harder-hit southern EU nations.

Accusations of bias have been an ongoing problem within the EU and the situation has not been helped by a German serving as President of the European Commission. In June, polling completed in Italy, the first European country to be severely affected by the pandemic, found that a majority (51%) of respondents agreed that if the European Commissioner was from southern Europe rather than from Germany, the EU would have already provided more economic support to southern European member states. A clear plurality (42%) of the Spanish public shared the view that the EU would have acted more swiftly if dominated by southern European politicians. Notably a plurality (41%) of Germans also agreed with the statement, however it is possible that many of them considered this a positive rather than a negative development.

Merkel’s decision to push for the EU providing greater support to southern Europeans nations may have been an astute political manoeuvre intending to placate an Italian and Spanish public which are increasingly wary of German dominance of the bloc. Belief that the bloc is increasingly skewed towards German interests may be increasing EU-scepticism in the Mediterranean nations. Although a plurality of Italians would vote to remain in the EU, a significant minority (31%) would vote to leave the bloc. Moreover, the former Five Star Movement senator Gianluigi Paragone has announced his intention to form a single-issue party working for Italexit, which may solidify the anti-EU base in the country.

Senior pro-EU politicians across the continent will be especially concerned that a slight plurality (34%) of Italian respondents believe that membership of the EU has had a negative effect on Italy overall, while less than a third (32%) think that EU membership has had an overall positive effect on the country. More encouragingly for the bloc, a clear majority (57%) of Spaniards consider that being a member of the European Union has had a positive effect on Spain. The French public are split on the impact EU membership has had on their nation. Although a plurality (39%) believe the bloc has had a positive effect on the country, 24% think it has negatively impacted France, while a quarter (25%) have no opinion one way or another. Interestingly, although a plurality (47%) of Germans consider the EU has had a positive effect on Germany, a significant minority (28%) holds neither negative nor positive opinions, while around a fifth (19%) view the impact of belonging to the bloc negatively. 

Ultimately, as the EU stimulus package begins to provide support to the most economically vulnerable countries within the bloc, it may be the case that a new era of solidarity has been initiated. Nevertheless, ongoing differences in opinion about how the continent can escape recession may continue to disrupt integration, while concerns about the dominance of Germany within the bloc may continue to increase anti-EU sentiment in other member states.

[1] Due to a translation error, the “Don’t Know” answer to this question was not presented to German respondents. As a result, we are not including the German responses to this question, since they would not be comparable to the other three countries.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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