Euro bailouts cause Germans more angst than Ukraine - poll

Thu Sep 4, 2014 10:30am EDT

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* Cost of bailouts tops concerns in annual anxiety survey

* Germans less worried about risk of conflict in Ukraine

* Reflects confidence in Merkel's approach to Ukraine

* Also may explain rise of Eurosceptic AfD party

By Stephen Brown

BERLIN, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Germans are much more worried about how the lingering effects of the euro zone crisis will impact their pockets than the risk of getting involved in foreign conflicts like Ukraine, according to an annual survey of German angst released on Thursday.

Even though the debt crisis in the currency zone has ebbed, and been replaced by Ukraine in the news headlines, six out of 10 were concerned about the impact on German taxpayers of euro zone bailouts. Less than four in 10 worried about Ukraine.

That may reflect public confidence in Chancellor Angela Merkel's cautious approach to the West's stand-off with Russia over Ukraine. She rules out a military solution and has tried to maintain dialogue with President Vladimir Putin.

Enduring worry about the euro crisis, on the other hand, may explain the rise of Alternative for Germany (AfD), a Eurosceptic party which has won seats in the European Parliament and took votes from Merkel's conservatives in a state election in Saxony.

"People have their own view, which differs from politicians and the people in charge of economic and monetary policy who say debt is under control and the bailout policy is working," said Manfred Schmidt, a politics professor from Heidelberg.

Analysing the "Fear of the Germans" poll carried out for the insurance company R+V at a news conference, he said the bailout scheme had calmed fears of an existential threat to the currency itself, "but people know this will cost German taxpayers a lot".

As Europe's biggest economy, Germany has to make the biggest contribution to bailouts for struggling euro zone states such as Greece. Merkel insisted on tough fiscal reforms in return and is currently resisting a push from the likes of France and Italy to relax such fiscal discipline in order to generate growth.

The annual angst poll of 2,400 people carried out since 1992 often shows the cost of living to be the top concern. This year was no exception and the trend is explained by the rising cost of fuel, food and the budget for state welfare, Schmidt said.

But overall German angst levels are at their lowest level in the past 20 years: 39 percent of respondents admitted to feeling high overall anxiety levels versus 50 percent at the start of the crisis in the European single currency zone in 2010.

Only 35 percent feared Germany could get embroiled in a war, a two-point rise Schmidt said was statistically insignificant.

Asked specifically about Ukraine, 37 percent were worried about a violent conflict there, which was at a much lower level than concerns expressed about money, health or growing old.

Rita Jakli, in charge of the survey for R+V, said Germans were much more sanguine about the crisis in Ukraine than back in 1999, when Germany got involved in NATO peacekeeping in Kosovo and the poll detected "war angst" among six out of 10 Germans.

Germans' particular abhorrence of military conflict dates to World War Two, which was started by Hitler's Germany and devastated the country and much of Europe.

Merkel has repeatedly ruled out any military solution to the standoff with Russia over Ukraine, though she is helping to arm Kurds in northern Iraq fighting the Islamic State insurgency.

"Most of the German population are clear pacifists and are well-informed about Western security policy and know it will not risk any major military conflict over Ukraine," said Schmidt. (Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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