A bimonthly magazine on international affairs, edited in Germany's capital

Europe by Numbers: Faint Praise


Germans have grown increasingly concerned regarding their country’s ability to absorb new arrivals. But they still think they’ve done a better job handling it than anyone else – and other Europeans agree.


Source: YouGov/”Who is handling the European refugee crisis well?”

The past two months cannot have been easy for German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She ended the summer politically unassailable – in August, following the latest rescue of Greece (and the euro), two thirds (67 percent) of Germans told the ARD-Deutschlandtrend poll that they were satisfied or very satisfied with her work. Her only realistic rival – Wolfgang Schäuble, with a 70-percent approval rating – was operating within her administration. It seemed increasingly likely that she would retain a commanding position within German politics until she decided to leave.

Now her fortunes have reversed. Since deciding to open Germany’s borders to refugees entering Europe through Hungary, Merkel has found herself embroiled in fights with local leaders and members of her own party – developing a particularly contentious relationship with Horst Seehofer, Minister President of Bavaria and chairman of the CSU, sister party to Merkel’s CDU – and under fire from other European governments, who accuse her of exacerbating the crisis by encouraging more refugees to come.

Her popularity has suffered as well: the October ARD-Deutschlandtrend showed satisfaction with Merkel dropping to 54 percent, with Steinmeier down to 65 percent and Schäuble at 64 percent. Satisfaction with Horst Seehofer, meanwhile, stands at 39 percent – by no means a majority, but an 11 percent gain over September.

Germans are becoming increasingly worried about their country’s ability to handle so many arrivals. While 45 percent said in early September that the consequences of this new wave of migration would be largely positive for Germany (compared to 33 percent who disagreed), the numbers were reversed in early October, when 44 percent said  that the consequences would be mostly negative (compared to 35% who disagreed).  And while a clear majority said in early September, immediately after Merkel announced that Germany would accept refugees from Hungary, that they were not worried about Germany taking in so many refugees (61 vs. 38 percent), that confidence has slowly eroded; as of early October, a slim majority (51 percent) said they were concerned. According to a YouGov poll completed in late September, when asked to choose one word to describe their feelings about the refugee crisis, 57 percent of Germans said “afraid”.

However, other countries are hardly happier. A plurality in Norway (45 percent) said they were mostly “sad”, while the Swedes were split between “pity” (38 percent), “empathetic” (36 percent), and “disgusted” (36 percent). In France, meanwhile, a slim plurality said “angry” (36 percent), while 32 percent said “sad” and 31 percent said “afraid”. In Britain, the core European Union member state most reluctant to accept refugees at all, a 35 percent plurality said the crisis made them “sad” – followed by 26 percent who were simply “annoyed”.

In fact, while no one is particularly happy about the steps being taken, it seems most Europeans agree on one thing: Germany is not doing that badly.  According to the same YouGov poll, pluralities in France (35 percent), Denmark (52 percent), Sweden (59 percent), Finland (48 percent), and Norway (50 percent) said Germany has handled the refugee crisis well; 54 percent of Germans themselves say the same, and even a 44 percent plurality of Britons agree. Meanwhile, pluralities in nearly every country surveyed give poor marks to many of the other countries at the epicenter of the crisis, with Greece and Hungary faring particularly poorly. Europeans generally endorse the measures undertaken by Sweden, which has accepted more refugees per capita than nearly any other country, and Austria earns tepid approval.

The Germans and Swedes expressed particularly strong disapproval of Britain, with 52 percent and a 35 percent plurality, respectively, saying that Britain has handled the crisis badly – and in Germany, 26 percent said Britain had handled the crisis “very badly”. But even the Britons themselves are none too pleased with the job their government has done, with only 27 percent saying the government has handled the crisis well compared to 35 percent who said the government has handled it badly. Meanwhile, the French are particularly frustrated with their own government, with 50 percent of French respondents saying their government has handled the crisis badly compared to only 15 percent who believe their government has done a good job. While it is impossible to infer what British and French respondents would prefer, the fact that both countries express favorable views of Germany, Austria, and Sweden would seem to imply a desire for greater acceptance of refugees – in Europe overall, if not necessarily in their own countries.

Read more articles in the Berlin Policy Journal App – November/December 2015 issue.