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.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 a poten­tial gap between pub­lic and elite con­cep­tions of EU fears.

This report com­pares sur­vey data on Ger­man pub­lic opin­ion with insights from elite inter­views with polit­i­cal lead­ers. It 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 con­cern are direct­ly relat­ed to their eval­u­a­tions of Germany’s future strat­e­gy in the EU: those who are more con­cerned 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 politi­cians have dif­fi­cul­ties address­ing these con­cerns. 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 upon explain­ing the EU’s pro­ce­dures and increas­ing iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with the EU. Politi­cians, it seems, strug­gle to think of mea­sures that improve the EU’s prob­lem-solv­ing capacity.

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