According to a new BBC poll of more than 26,000 people in 22 countries, Germany is viewed more positively than any other country tracked -- a surprise to anyone who has followed the painful bailout negotiations in Spain, Greece and Cyprus, where aggrieved observers have repeatedly compared Chancellor Angela Merkel to Hitler and condemned Germany as a "thief" and an "empire."
Despite those much-publicized cases, the BBC poll found that 59 percent of respondents called Germany's impact on the world "mostly positive," versus 45 percent for the U.S., which falls around the middle of the 22 tracked countries, and 15 percent for Iran, which ranks last. The poll ranks 22 major countries and the E.U.
The affection for Germany is interesting, particularly among European countries, because it comes at a time when Germany and the rest of E.U. share precious little common ground. Economists forecast that Germany's economy will grow slightly this year, while other large E.U. economies shrink. The Post's Anthony Faiola reported in October on Germany's growing image problem abroad. Meanwhile, a May survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project found that Germans, unlike virtually all their neighbors, feel good about the economy, the future and the European Union. As Pew's Bruce Stokes wrote in an op-ed for Der Spiegel:
Over the last two generations one goal of the European project has been to narrow the differences between Germany and the rest of Europe. But recent economic difficulties have only amplified those dissimilarities. The contrast between German sentiment today and that of other Europeans could not be more stark ... [and] may only complicate Europe's efforts to deal with its current troubles because Germans have different concerns, different priorities and favor different solutions.
One example of divergent solutions is the controversial strings attached to E.U. bailouts, which earned Merkel such disdain in Spain and Greece. Such requirements have long been popular in Germany, which endured tough welfare reforms more than 10 years ago and where -- according to a 2012 study from Columbia University -- nearly 70 percent of adults believe their country should pay less into the financial rescue fund.
But in countries that have received bailouts, the harsh German-backed reforms remain divisive. And that could, someday, knock Germany from its popularity perch: Pew reports, for instance, that most Europeans consider Germany the most arrogant, and least caring, country in the E.U.