by Katja Hoyer
Friday, 6
January 2023
Explainer
07:00

From the EU to Olaf Scholz, Germans are losing faith

A new poll shows a drop in confidence in nearly every institution
by Katja Hoyer
Olaf Scholz is losing the trust of his people. Credit: Getty

“I just don’t know who to vote for anymore. I don’t think it makes any difference,” grumbled a friend of mine when I met him for a beer in Berlin over Christmas. And he is not alone. Over the last year, Germans’ trust in politics and public institutions has imploded, a new poll suggests.

Of course, general dissatisfaction with politics is nothing new, but the poll suggests there has been an astonishing drop in the German public’s confidence in every single one of the institutions that govern them, from local administration to the European Union, which only 31% said they still trusted.


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The biggest loss of confidence was suffered by the federal government and the Chancellor, who compared to last year’s poll lost 22% and 24% respectively and are now only trusted by around a third of Germans.

It would be easy to write these alarming figures off as the result of an extraordinarily difficult year for many Germans. Average inflation in 2022 was around 8% and this figure still hides a drastic increase in food prices which rose by a fifth. The war in Ukraine and the attendant escalation of the energy crisis have also taken their toll on living standards. The German state of Hesse reported, for example, that in 2022 its citizens paid over a third more on their energy bills and 27% more to fill up their cars.

But the sudden drop in trust in so many public institutions cannot be explained away by the economic situation. On a personal level, a recent poll suggested, the overwhelming majority of Germans saw 2022 as a positive year and look forward to 2023. Friends and family in Germany tell me they understand that global circumstances make it impossible for any government to restore the stability Germany enjoyed for so long.

Their issue is one of trust. They feel that institutions and the politicians that fill them are out of touch and have no interest in public service. A number of scandals throughout 2022 cemented this impression at all levels. The corruption allegations against senior EU politicians, dubbed Qatargate, reinforced conceptions of self-serving bureaucrats in Brussels. The German Chancellor was repeatedly linked to a multibillion-euro tax evasion scandal. And even at local level, trust was eroded in incidents such as the Berlin state elections of 2021, which were deemed invalid due to “systematic faults” and have to be repeated this year. Taken together, such incidents give many the impression that public institutions are plagued by corruption and incompetence.

Perhaps the most damaging factor, however, is communication. Politicians at all levels appear to be out of touch and, worse, they don’t seem to see this as a problem. When the conflict between Russia and Ukraine escalated at the beginning of 2022, the Chancellor kept such a low profile that even Germany’s public broadcaster ARD wondered: “Where is Olaf Scholz?” More recently he’s had to defend his Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht, whose “insensitive” New Year’s address, in which she talked about the war in Ukraine in front of a fireworks display, “only crowns her series of embarrassments,” as an opposition politician put it.

Germans have not only lost trust in their politicians but also, more alarmingly, in the institutions they occupy — at all levels from the local to the supranational. This should be a wake-up call to anyone in public office, as such disaffection always helps those who offer radical policies rather than more of the same. Germany, of all countries, should know never to take democracy for granted.

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Ben Jones
Ben Jones
30 days ago

A friend who works for a German company describes his annoyance with his colleagues; “I get endless lectures about Brexit, the chaos of the UK and how Germany does everything better. Their self-confidence is amazing. When I mention their disastrous foreign and energy policies and their treatment of the southern EU they look at me in genuine astonishment. They seem oblivious to the idea they could possibly do anything wrong. And this is a country still highly reliant on the fax machine.”

Tom Watson
Tom Watson
30 days ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

The figures may be inaccurate but prpbably aren’t in order-of-magnitude terms: supposedly something like €2trn of European GDP was dependent on around €20bn of gas imports.

If only there were a word for the happiness I feel on witnessing another’s misfortune…

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
30 days ago
Reply to  Tom Watson

my md has gone blank but I’m sure that the Germans have such a word.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
30 days ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

Did he mention the war?

Last edited 30 days ago by Allison Barrows
Ben Jones
Ben Jones
30 days ago

Which one?

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
30 days ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

Ach! I lost count!

rob drummond
rob drummond
29 days ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

Lectures from Germans about Brexit. Yes probably because yet again UK will be the ONE major European country Germany will not be able to dominate.
Shame about France and the others Not really) who have still unwittingly given control of their country to ECB (aka Germany)

Check out how efficient Germany was building their flagship airport at Berlin. 10 years late and as much over budget. Same as most of their public infrastructure – to say nothing of Merkels disasterous energy policy

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
28 days ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

Do Germans realise that Merkel dropped the whole continent in it with her energy policy?

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
27 days ago
Reply to  Ben Jones

Hahaha, yes I can totally imagine that! A friend of mine who comes from Berlin but lives in the UK is forever posting on social media about how terrible the UK is, how chaotic, how dumb Brexit was and how “Germans just do it better”…yes, the person who comes from a city that can’t even conduct its own election. They’re in a massive state of denial.

AC Harper
AC Harper
30 days ago

When politicians (especially in the EU itself) make a career of being the most ‘politiciany’ you end up with with a load of actors in charge, rather than doers. ‘Doing stuff’ is now seen by politicians as risky for their continued performances, but their ineffectiveness is exposed once the ‘good times’ run into difficulties.
Perhaps Populism really does arise from the failures of The Powers That Be? Who knew? Who cared? Until now.

Brett H
Brett H
30 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

“their ineffectiveness is exposed once the ‘good times’ run into difficulties.”

Yes, they’re simply not up to it. That’s not just Germany. What do we do about it?
Edit: the terrible thing is they haven’t been able to capitalise on the good times and there’s nothing to act as a buffer against the tough times.

Last edited 30 days ago by Brett H
Phillip Arundel
Phillip Arundel
30 days ago
Reply to  Brett H

Term Limits.

That is the answer. The Lobbyists own the politicians, the corporate capture becomes almost complete given enough time.

Dog Eared
Dog Eared
30 days ago

Not just the UK then.

Howard Gleave
Howard Gleave
30 days ago
Reply to  Dog Eared

Indeed not. I find it remarkable that Remain voters, who often congratulate themselves on their alleged greater awareness of European countries, are so oblivious of what is going on there. I have recently undergone a 3 hour operation in St George’s, Tooting. The staff were efficency and kindness personified. From diagnosis to operation was 9 weeks. Yes, the NHS has problems. Yes, it needs reform. But there is a tendency in Britain to catastrophise and to think that everything we do is bad, and everything other countries, especially in the EU, do is better. Accurate reporting on “foreign affairs” in Britain in the MSM is sadly lacking. Probably because of poor language skills.

Paul Devlin
Paul Devlin
30 days ago
Reply to  Howard Gleave

Catastrophe is the name of the game. A headline on BBC NI today is “NI Health Service pressure amazingly unprecedented – surgeon” . Amazingly unprecedented! It’s just the winter. Hospitals are busy but the media should have a bit of sense about this and stop trying to terrorise/propagandise the public

R Wright
R Wright
30 days ago

The saddest part is that a third of them still trust the anti-democratic, corrupt EU.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
30 days ago

There was an interesting article published by Unherd by Rob Lownie on the decline of innovative thinking in science. This was regarded as attributable to greater specialisation and bureaucratic thinking encouraging conformist funding of next step ideas rather than fundamental innovation.

I think we see this in politics where the politicians of the traditional parties are drawn from an increasingly narrow social and educational background and regard it as a career path where conformist thinking is rewarded so that current shibboleths do not get challenged. I am not sure too what extent this translates over to Germany but I suspect it does so that In the case of Germany the CDU led but SDP inclusive coalition introduced massive unfocused and demographically skewed immigration and the closing of coal and nuclear energy sources and over reliance on Russian energy that was never properly thought through but supported in a
conformist fashion by the main parties. There was insufficient intellectual challenge that allowed corruption and inefficiency to grow behind the facade of German exceptionalism.

Chris Keating
Chris Keating
30 days ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

You were going well for a while Jeremy, but most politicians have no idea, as the paradigm has shifted and what used to a dead set certainty is now just waffle.
They gave everything to business who used that largesse to screw their workforce, which happened to be most of the citizens and surprise, surprise the citizens are starting to understand that they count for nothing and are looking for alternatives.
All of the blather regarding energy supply is simply nonsense. Russia was a dependable supplier until the Americans decided that it was not and blew up the pipelines.
You are looking for enemies, but in the wrong places.
PS America is not your friend.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
30 days ago
Reply to  Chris Keating

As a UK conservative I certainly don’t regard the US as automatically my friend and in particular deplore the introduction of the malign US originated Diversity, inclusion and equity programs here.

However, the perpetrator of the damage to the Nordstream pipeline has not been identified so attributing it to the US is still in the realm of a conspiracy theory rather than fact. Moreover the decision to move to reducing imports of oil from Russia was an EU mandated decision not one demanded by the US. Trade sanctions are regarded as a normal tactic to register disapproval short of taking steps to mobilise and the trigger for this was the invasion of the Ukraine by Russia not anything initiated by the US. Ukraine posed no threat to Russia but Putin wished to seize their rich oil and grain resources and warm sea ports for the Russian navy.

Whether oil sanctions in fact harm the EU more than Russia in fact is clearly open for debate but to suggest it is part of a US anti-European conspiracy is more likely to prompt the conspiracy speculation that you are merely a Russian troll.

Chris Keating
Chris Keating
30 days ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

No worries Jeremy, just keep that blindfold on. USA, USA here to stay, just ask the Iraqis and the Afghanis not to mention the Vietnamese. Still in Iraq, but doing what, maybe facilitating greater thievery.
If you believe that nonsense that the EU acts independently of the US I’ve got a bridge for sale. The EU politicians shit their pants when they have to think of anything beyond the sinecures that they have managed to obtain.
World peace doesn’t count for jack shit amongst those arseholes

Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
30 days ago
Reply to  Chris Keating

I think most have been a bit harsh on Chris, yes his language is a bit rough but there may be more reality behind his comments that we would like to think.
The USA prefers a not too strong europe: how it tries to achieve this I leave to the academics to work out: there are many opinions and explanations on offer left right and centre.
Of course the big problem is the EU needing to become really democratic: this will be an ongoing process and hopefully (also for the benefit of the UK) will be able to achieve this. There may be some trouble ahead by populations in the street and more EU countries ignoring EU policy aspects. But that is how humanity has been fiddling ever since the beginning of our history: success, failure, success, failure, success, failure, …..

Phillip Arundel
Phillip Arundel
30 days ago

You need to read the WWII account of the Tehran Conference when Churchill, FDR, and Stalin met to divide up the world. Really – get a book on Churchill and read that section. Really… maybe then you will understand how the world is.

Basically… FDR and Stalin held the conference in private and excluded Churchill. It had been decided at the very beginning of the war that UK would de-Colonize as the price of USA arms, and at Tehran they divided up Europe with Churchill locked out. Really – read the story, it is in every book of Churchill.

FDR gave Stalin East Europe to break European Power. That was it – that was what went down. USA was going to be top Superpower. He did it by making Europe and Russia opposing forces in equal power – both for then on second rate actors. Russia greatly risen, Europe greatly diminished. Trueman continued with this.

Almost no one actually knows world history. Think of World History as being like covid – not a pandemic, but a plandemic – but all the authorities took one side, and all the Media towed the line. Truth was what you were told, not what it was actually.

Anyway – what the pipeline means is huge. Qatar and USA Gas.. The Sanctions were not for Russia’s harm – but for Europe’s. These $100,000,000,000 Biden gave to corrupt the world economies and destroy Europe and Ukraine and Russia – it was not for democracy….

The 250,000 dead and 250,000 disabled and maimed, and the 8 million refugees, and the Ukraine destroyed, and a global depression created, and Europe and UK set to big recession and their currencies devalued.. – this was not to preserve democracy like you silly sheep believe….. It is Politics by another means – it is weird and not what you believe – or could even guess the reasons – it all is a Great Game, and you are losing……badly…

Michael Daniele
Michael Daniele
30 days ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

in particular deplore the introduction of the malign US originated Diversity, inclusion and equity programs here.
I read this type of thing frequently in the comments, and it always strikes me as odd. It’s not like the US forced this on you by making it contingent for NATO funding or something. YOUR political leaders and power brokers gleefully adopted these ideas and forced them on you. Don’t blame the US.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
30 days ago

Fair comment. A daft program introduced in the US for perhaps understandable reasons given the the history of institutional discrimination should never have been transferred to the UK with an entirely different racial history. But as you say we did it to ourselves. But it is still a malign program originating from the US so I am still unhappy it was popularised in the US, even if it was introduced here by home grown ideologues.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
30 days ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

This wasn’t a daft program introduced by anyone and it has nothing to do with racism.

The political and technocratic elite that have been running the show for the last 15 years in the US, Britain, Europe, Canada etc are the same people. They just have different names and locations.

Johnson, Trudeau, Biden, Merkel – whoever – they’re all over-educated, under-skilled career politicians who never had real jobs and don’t know anyone outside their cloistered circle.

If you do get a maverick politician, they are soon choked out by bureaucrats who come from the same progressive, over-educated, under-skilled class of people.

They all think the same on every subject – racism, foreign policy, freedom of speech, climate change, the pandemic. And it doesn’t matter if they are Liberal, Conservative, Labour, Democrat. They’re all hd same.

rue boileau
rue boileau
29 days ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

The US is/was the ONLY country with an interest in destroying Nordstream, which, incidentally, they had vehemently opposed from the start and vowed to put an end to. Biden openly said so, with Olaf Scholz standing right next to him, smiling sheepishly.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
28 days ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

.. maybe be better to describe it as a “theory” – rather than a “conspiracy theory”. The latter is usually just the left-wingers way to imply someone is a fantasist.

Last edited 28 days ago by Ian Barton
P Branagan
P Branagan
27 days ago
Reply to  Chris Keating

“How much evidence is required before it is clear that Western Civilization is empty of integrity, judgment, reason, morality, empathy, compassion, self-awareness, truth, empty of everything that Western Civilization once respected?

All that is left of the West is insouciance and unrestrained evil.”

~Paul Craig Roberts, former Undersecretary Of Treasury, Reagan Administration

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
29 days ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Bang on thanks !

John Hicks
John Hicks
30 days ago

“Taking democracy for granted,” may be less of a problem for Germany than actually structuring a democracy capable of reflecting the interest and wishes of the electorate, or being accountable to that electorate. The Parliament has 736 members. Only 299 of these are directly elected and accountable. The other 437 are primarily accountable to unelected party officials who have promoted their tenure. Party lists remain a preferred representation. A Committee tasked with reducing ballooning Bundestag membership recommends cutting down on directly elected representation. Pathways to unaccountable democracy are more what “Germany of all Nations,” should recognise.

Chris Keating
Chris Keating
30 days ago

The Germans and most of Europe is fucked as the US is using the war in Ukraine to de-industrialise the continent and their political leadership is going along with it. The destruction of the Nord Stream gas pipelines should have been a massive warning to the Europeans but they have merely shrugged their shoulders and kept on with their slow motion economic suicide.
It is no wonder that their populations are pissed off. Plenty of money to blow things up in Ukraine but little to ease the pressures created by their own economic war via the sanctions.
The public don’t even realise that they are involved but they have been duped for years . The Russians, Chinese and American leadership amongst others, know what is going on but the public in the West is totally oblivious and the political leadership daren’t even think about what they see before their very eyes, so are in massive denial. It won’t end well even if the nuclear war is averted.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
30 days ago
Reply to  Chris Keating

Not everyone in the US is oblivious. Many of us know the war in Ukraine is a money laundering operation for politicians and their confrères. We vote – our only recourse – but that basic act of self-determination is no longer a factor, having been completely corrupted by all “sides” of the political class.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
30 days ago

Hmm. Seems to be a lot of this going around these days – across the west.

Chris Keating
Chris Keating
30 days ago

They should be annoyed as their leadership is actively destroying their own country in their indulgent involvement in the Ukraine civil war.
To be trusted leaders need to be trustworthy and this lot aren’t as they turn a blind eye to what is obvious to anyone with a critical eye, especially after the destruction of the Nord Stream gas pipeline. The US is destroying the German industrial base and the German politicians don’t want to know.

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
30 days ago

You could almost feel sorry for politicians these days (I said *almost*!). They are hamstrung whichever way they turn it’s as if the political landscape is shifting beneath their feet. These are the times we are living through and we watch and wait, wondering what is going to emerge, and we may very well look back on these days as the good old times.

Chris Keating
Chris Keating
30 days ago

They are all volunteers Dermot wanting to run your life so I have very little pity. I really hope that these aren’t the days the days that will be held as the good old days as something better beckons but no-one is blazing the path, least of all the fuckers that crawled over everyone else to grab the job.