• Germany's news in English

Why French are easier on Greece than Germans

Ben McPartland · 8 Jul 2015, 13:46

Published: 08 Jul 2015 13:46 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

While up until now President François Hollande has fallen in line with German chancellor Angela Merkel over how to deal with Greece, public opinion in the two countries is markedly different.

In November 2011 at the beginning of the Greek crisis, some 73 per cent of French people were favourable to a Greek exit from the eurozone if they couldn’t pay back their debt or reduce their deficit.

But nearly four years later and a week after Greece defaulted on the €1.6 billion payment it owed the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a poll has revealed only 45 per cent of the French people are now in favour of a Grexit.

On the other side of the Rhine however, opinions differ – with the latest IFOP poll showing 60 per cent of Germans are in favour of Grexit, as the chances of one happening appear to increase by the day.

"The French are much less intransigent and less harsh towards Greece than they were in the past and are less severe than the Germans on this issue” Jérôme Fourquet, director of public opinion at IFOP told The Local.

Fourquet says there are essentially three reasons to explain the change of stance among the French public, even if it’s important to note that many in the country, particularly on the right, are still favourable to Greece being ushered out of the euro.

“The French see the efforts that the Greeks have made in recent years in terms of cuts, for example on pensions, yet they see that the economy hasn’t really taken off.

"They now think that perhaps it’s counter-productive to inflict more austerity. They think 'we’ve asked them to make all these efforts, but look at the state of Greece today'.

"'The Greek economy is not going anywhere, so we need to change the method. They’ve paid for their mistakes.'"

The pollster also points to Wednesday’s survey, which reveals the vast majority of French people (85 per cent) accept that France will never be repaid the the €65 billion owed by Athens, whether it stays in the euro or not.

“In Germany however they still think Tsipras is a bluffer and they believe he has the means to get their money back,” says Fourquet.

Another reason for the difference in stance in Germany and France centres around the strength – or weakness in the case of France – of the two countries' own economies.

Many in France fear the knock-on effects of the Greek crisis on their own country, which is struggling under record-high unemployment, minuscule growth and a public deficit it is struggling to reduce, which prompted a slap on the wrist from Brussels.

“The French fear the domino effect caused by the fall of Greece, which would see their own economy become more fragile,” says Fourquet.

The French don't see the need to plunge the eurozone into crisis by forcing the Greeks out.

In Germany however – the eurozone’s biggest economy where growth forecasts for 2015 have been raised and record low unemployment fuels a consumer spending boost – fears of the eurozone collapsing like a house of cards are lower.

One thing the French and Germans do have in common when it comes to the Greek crisis is their trust in Angela Merkel over Hollande.

Whereas only 24 per cent of French people have faith in the way François Hollande is handling the ongoing crisis, 44 per cent are confident that Merkel will lead the way out of the storm.

In Germany that figure rises to 51 per cent.

“It’s plain to see that in the eyes of the French and German public opinion, it’s not François Hollande that embodies European leadership, but Angela Merkel,” said Fourquet.

However, he accepted that Hollande was in a difficult position, caught between northern Europe, where countries are more resistant to idea the EU should bend over backwards to help Greece and southern European countries like Spain and Italy, where there is a more conciliatory stance.

Story continues below…

“Both geographically and culturally France is a link between northern Europe and southern Europe and that’s not such a bad thing for Hollande; he has a useful card to play,” says Fourquet.

“But he must advance carefully. He does not want to be seen as a man who does not respect commitments, in the eyes of other European leaders. If he appears to be too willing to accommodate Greece, he will be seen as the 'spokesperson for bad students'.

“Hollande is trying to gain credibility by relaunching France’s own economy. He could lose all that if he is seen as being too soft on Greece.”

But while the opinion of the French towards Greece appears more sympathetic than that of the German public, all that could change in the days to come, says Fourquet.

“It all depends on how the next few days play out. If no deal is found and Greece leaves the euro they may blame Merkel for keeping Athens as a prisoner, or Tsipras, who maybe pushed their patience too far.

“Only time will tell.”

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Obama to visit Berlin in last presidential trip to Germany
President Barack Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel during a Berlin trip in 2013. Photo: DPA.

The White House announced on Tuesday that US President Barack Obama will be paying one last unexpected visit to the German capital - his last before he leaves office.

Hostility towards minorities 'widespread in Bavaria'
A village in southern Bavaria. Photo: DPA.

Hate and hostility towards groups deemed to be different are not just sentiments felt by fringe extremists, a new report on Bavaria shows.

Hated RB Leipzig emerge as shock challengers to Bayern
RB Leipzig. Photo: DPA

RB Leipzig's remarkable unbeaten start to the Bundesliga season has seen them suddenly emerge at the head of the pack chasing reigning champions and league leaders Bayern Munich.

Munich taxi driver in hospital after attack by British tourists
Photo: DPA

A taxi driver had to be hospitalized in Munich on Monday evening after three British tourists refused to pay their fare and then attacked him.

German police carry out nationwide anti-terror raids
Police outside a building in Jena during raids on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

Police forces in five German states carried out raids on Tuesday morning with the aim of tackling the financing of terror groups, police in Thuringia have reported.

The Local List
10 ways German completely messes up your English
Photo: DPA

So you've mastered German, but now it's time to learn English all over again.

Iconic German church being eroded away by human urine
Ulm Minster towering over the rest Ulm surrounding the Danube. Photo: Pixabay

It will now cost you €100 to spend a penny. That’s if you get caught choosing to pee against the world-famous Ulm Minster.

German small arms ammo exports grow ten-fold
Photo: DPA

The government has come in for criticism after new figures revealed that Germany exported ten times the quantity of small arms ammunition in the first half of 2016 as in the same period last year.

14-year-old stabs 'creepy clown' in prank gone wrong
File photo: DPA.

A 16-year-old in Berlin decided he wanted to scare some friends, but his plot backfired in a violent way.

Four Ku Klux Klan groups active in Germany, says govt
An American member of the KKK at a gathering in Georgia. Photo: EPA.

The German government estimates that there are four Ku Klux Klan (KKK) groups currently active in the country, according to a report by the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) on Tuesday.

Germany's 10 most weird and wonderful landmarks
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd