While Greeks’ rejection of austerity in last week’s referendum may not have had the desired effect, that doesn’t mean public opinion in Europe is impotent. To the contrary, both the hardline stance of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the more accommodating position of French President François Hollande hew closely to their electorates’ beliefs (which those politicians have, in turn, helped to shape), while the leaders of Southern European nations like Spain and Italy have used Greece as a fable for the perils of rejecting austerity, in the hopes of quelling populist movements in their own countries.
To better understand the impact of public opinion on Greek negotiations, we’ve taken a look at some of the most influential countries participating in the ongoing discussions about Greece’s future:
Merkel’s hardline approach to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is rivaled only by that of average Germans. In fact, the German public has taken a more severe stance against any form of debt relief for Greece: A poll conducted shortly after the Greek referendum found that 60 percent of Germans supported a Greek exit (“Grexit”) from the euro zone—almost the same percentage as the “no” vote won during the Greek referendum—and 70 percent opposed any further concessions by the European Union.
German voters have expressed strong support for their leaders’ performance in negotiations: Two-thirds of voters said they approved of Merkel’s diplomatic efforts, and 70 percent lauded the even more hardline Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, suggesting that German leaders have very little internal pressure to change their tack towards Greece. Of course, the German public might just be echoing the unrelenting anti-Greek messaging they’ve been hearing from their leaders and the press: Schäuble has repeatedly accused Greek leaders of making “false statements,” and Bild, Germany’s best-selling tabloid, greeted news of the latest bailout deal with a banner headline on its website reading, “After all those promises… another 86 BILLION euros for Greece.”
Like their president, the French public is far more conciliatory toward Greece. A poll last week found that only 45 percent of French citizens supported the possibility of a Grexit, even though 85 percent of French don’t expect Greece to ever pay back the 42 billion euros it owes France. In fact, a small plurality of those polled (37 percent) said they supported Greek voters’ decision to vote “no” on the referendum.