Germany - mind the gap: understanding public opinion and elite interpretations of EU concerns in Germany

Huebner, C. ORCID: 0000-0003-0321-2546 and Eichhorn, J., 2017. Germany - mind the gap: understanding public opinion and elite interpretations of EU concerns in Germany. In: Nothing to fear but fear itself? "Mapping and responding to the rising culture and politics of fear in the European Union…". London: Demos, pp. 175-226. ISBN 9781911192077

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Germany has long been viewed as a country of Europhiles, but recently the country has been displaying signs of growing Euroscepticism. When asked to think about Europe, a sizeable minority of Germans expresses concern over a loss of social security or jobs, a loss of national identity and culture, or Germany's financial contributions to the European Union (EU). German political elites across the left–right spectrum have left these concerns largely unaddressed and continue to advocate for the European project. This raises questions about there being a potential gap between public and elite conceptions of EU fears.

Our comparison of survey data on German public opinion with insights from elite interviews with political leaders reveals that there is indeed a gap between public opinion and elite interpretations of the EU. Political decision-makers across the left–right spectrum perceive fears in Germany to be largely generalised, non-concrete and unrelated to evaluations of the EU. However, this is the case for a minority of Germans only. The majority show a pattern of concrete, distinguishable concerns, suggesting that we cannot speak about EU fears in the aggregate. Citizens' levels of anxiety are directly related to their evaluations of Germany’s future strategy in the EU: those who are more worried overall are more likely to want Germany to leave the EU or work towards reducing the EU's powers. While we find citizens' concerns to be dependent on both pragmatic economic evaluations and more emotive variables such as the degree of national and European identification, politicians focus on pragmatic economic evaluations. They underestimate the impact of emotional affiliations as expressed through identity on German public opinion.

Given German political elites' limited understanding of the public’s concerns, it is not surprising to find that 3 Germany politicians have difficulties addressing them. Although politicians recognise the importance of representation for citizens' evaluations of the legitimacy of the EU, the measures they suggest remain largely one-dimensional, centred on explaining the EU’s procedures and increasing identification with the EU. Politicians, it seems, struggle to think of measures to improve the EU's problem-solving capacity.

In order to close the gap between public and elite conceptions about the EU in Germany, it is crucial to support politicians in their task of understanding and addressing citizens' worries. This requires research and debate on EUrelated concerns, strategies for the transfer of knowledge about their underlying drivers and instruments to facilitate public–elite interaction about the EU as well as a broader range of policy options to address EU concerns across several levels of governance.

Item Type: Chapter in book
Creators: Huebner, C. and Eichhorn, J.
Publisher: Demos
Place of Publication: London
Date: 2017
ISBN: 9781911192077
Rights: Open access. Some rights reserved. As the publisher of this work, Demos wants to encourage the circulation of our work as widely as possible while retaining the copyright. We therefore have an open access policy which enables anyone to access our content online without charge. Anyone can download, save, perform or distribute this work in any format, including translation, without written permission. This is subject to the terms of the Demos licence found at the back of this publication. Its main conditions are: · Demos and the author(s) are credited · This summary and the address are displayed · The text is not altered and is used in full · The work is not resold · A copy of the work or link to its use online is sent to Demos. You are welcome to ask for permission to use this work for purposes other than those covered by the licence. Demos gratefully acknowledges the work of Creative Commons in inspiring our approach to copyright. To find out more go to
Divisions: Schools > School of Social Sciences
Record created by: Linda Sullivan
Date Added: 20 Feb 2020 09:48
Last Modified: 20 Feb 2020 09:48
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