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Friday, August 08, 2014

German public opinion hardens against Putin but business community still reluctant

An Infratest Dimap poll for Welt/ARD published today showed that 70%  of Germans are in favour of the EU's response to the crisis, with 80% thinking that Russia bears the biggest responsibility for the break-down in relations between Russia and the West, and with a slim majority (49% vs 46%) in favour tightening sanctions further, even if it has a negative impact on the German economy and jobs.

Being as ever nervous about meddling too much in world affairs, there's been a considerable shift in the German media and public-opinion regarding Russia. In March, after the annexation of Crimea, only 38% supported economic sanctions. By May this had risen to 50%. Now it's at 70%. The volte-face can be explained in part by some industry bodies publicly announcing that they would be able to weather such sanctions and the public outcry over the MH17 tragedy.

As has been noted by others, Angela Merkel was absolutely instrumental in breaking the deadlock over the sanctions, by showing willingness for Germany to bear a large chunk of the costs. This probably wouldn't have been possible absent the shift in public opinion (incidentally also illustrating how the "as Germany goes, so goes Europe" rule now increasingly also applies to foreign policy).

However, there's still plenty of opposition from within Germany. Business continue to warn against loss of jobs and profits. And today, Gabor Steingart, Editor-in-chief of Germany's financial daily Handelsblatt, laments "The folly of the West," for entering into "the politics of escalation" with Russia, on the front page of his paper today, writing:
"With its politics of escalation, Europe is missing a realistic [end] goal... Even the aim to bring Russia to its knees through economic pressure and political isolation, has not been properly thought through." 
"Even if this were to work: What good will that do? How can one expect to live alongside a demeaned people in the European house, when their elected-leader is treated like pariah, and their citizens may be committed to soup-kitchens in the coming winter?"
As Steingart sees it:  
"German journalism has switched from level-headed to agitated in a matter of weeks. The spectrum of opinions has narrowed to that of a sniper's scope... Headlines betray an aggressive tone that is usually characteristic of football hooligans."
There is clearly a growing gap in the German media, politics and public between those who want to go in harder on Putin, and those who favour Germany's 'Ostpolitik' tradition of bridge-building with the Kremlin. In turn, this reflects that on-going, grinding and drawn-out debate about Germany's role in Europe and the wider world, in which all kinds of German instincts clash.


Jesper said...

The google translation of the phrase from the newspaper:
"80 Prozent sagen, Russland trage einen großen Teil der Verantwortung für die Eskalation der Lage."
comes back as:
"80 percent say Russia carry a big part of the responsibility for the escalation of the situation."

Now, I suppose it depends on what the actual question was but the interpretation that the opinion is that Russia had the biggest responsibility is not what comes to my mind....

How big is big? 50% of the responsibility? 20% of the responsibility? 80% of the responsibility?

I suppose I'm yet again going to be accused of being an 'useful idiot' for asking for clarification :-)

Open Europe blog team said...

Hi Jesper, its true that exact phrase used is "a large share" but the implication is that this means they hold Russia primarily responsible - Welt wrote the poll findings up as:

"The overwhelming majority of Germans believe Russia is the main culprit of the situation in East Ukraine."

Jesper said...


As you know, a good poll will leave as little as possible open for interpretation.

You say that the implication of the polled answer is xxx
I say that the implication of the polled answer is yyy

Someone else might say the implication is something completely different. In other words, the poll could have been designed a lot better.

A badly designed poll will lead to bad data coming in. Bad data leads to bad conclusions. This poll, or at least the particular question, is so bad as to be almost useless.

As for translating the first sentence of their article (for my benefit?): Thank you, but it was not necessary. I read German :-)

Jesper said...

The poll is published here:

Interesting to note that in another August poll published there, the Gaza conflict, they actually asked who they thought had the biggest responsibility. A question they did not ask for the Ukraine conflict, instead we're to rely on implied answers....

The overwhelming majority believed both sides were equally to blame for the escalation in that conflict.

Rik said...

Probably a majority of the Germans are now pro sanction and see Russia as the main culprit however you simply cannot conclude that from this poll (at least what is shown here).
When large companies are pro-sanction (at least say so) as now the situation is clear most of the time.

People normally respond in this sort of situations with their underbelly.
Unjustice somewhere start a war kind of stuff. The real test is when the actual consequences of the own actions become clear.
There are simply no wars in which nobody but the bad guys die and there is no economic war without taking a hit yourself. And not all fall out is with your neighbour.
Hard to see that Europe will be pro economic war when that leads to a triple dip recession. And certainly not for a Kiev government which is as dodgy as the seperatists.

Developments are clearly longer term pro-populists. Put 2 groups against each other of which one is represented by the mainstream parties without any alternative there. This is not about who has a majority for a certain issue. This is about alieating another group of voters (almost certainly combined with mismanaging the situation by the current crowd).

Anonymous said...

Die Welt appears to be moderating
anti EU comments quite strongly.
Where as Spiegel online gives free
rein and most comments in the last
few days has been pro Russian