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Scholarship Article


A powerful Germany, both militarily and economically, has not always boded well for the continent of Europe. As of today, Germany has the largest European economy in terms of GDP, it has the largest population, and it is a central player within the European Union. Should Germany’s neighbors hold a favorable view of German influence, despite its success? This paper will test the explanatory power of two International Relations theories in regards to German popularity within three other states: Great Britain, France, and Spain. The two theories are Offensive Structural Realism, which predicts that Germany’s neighbors should not view German influence as favorable, and Institutionalism, which predicts that institutions like the EU do allow German neighbors to view German influence as favorable. Each theory will have testable independent variables which act on the dependent variable, which is each state’s view of German influence. The dependent variable will be verified by a survey conducted by Globescan/BBC/PIPA, which measures the percentage of respondents within Germany, Great Britain, France, and Spain who had a favorable view of German influence in the years of 2008-2014. This paper concludes by showing that Offensive Structural Realism’s predictions do not hold in Germany today; but rather, the Institutionalist’s predictions do hold. Because of institutional rules and economic interdependence, German neighbors generally have a favorable view of German influence, despite Germany’s economic power.


Table of Contents

Hook. 3

What Are the Theory Predictions?. 4

A Rising Power in Offensive Structural Realism?. 4

Institutionalism.. 6

What Does the Data Say?. 8

Offensive Structural Realism.. 8

Independent Variable 1: What is the Size of the Military?. 8

Independent Variable 2: What is the population?. 10

Independent Variable 3: What is the Share of Wealth?. 12

Conclusion?. 14

Institutionalism.. 14

Independent Variable 1: The EU and is Germany Following Rules?. 14

Independent Variable 2: Is there Economic Interdependence?. 18

Conclusion?. 20

Caveats?. 21

Conclusion. 22

Bibliography. 23

Appendix. 26

Popular or not so Popular? Offensive Structural Realist and Institutionalist Predictions of German Neighbors in Regards to German Power.


In 2017, Germany has the largest economy in all of Europe. In fact, it has the world’s fourth largest economy. Yet, if one is familiar with recent European history, a powerful Germany has not always brought warm tidings to its European neighbors. Indeed, whether it be 1869 or 1935, it cannot be said that the French were necessarily happy with their neighbor’s good economic fortunes. Since Angela Merkel ascended to the German Chancellery 2005, Germany has not only improved its economy, but has done so while successfully weathering the EU financial crisis that erupted in 2009. Other European states have been slow to recover from the crisis, but Germany has continued to grow economically and increase its influence over the European Union. So what does all of this mean for Germany’s European neighbors? Are they happy with how well Germany is doing, or are they nervous about German growth?

This paper seeks to answer that question. Of course, this paper cannot give a conclusive answer, but there are testable theories in international relations that can help the reader make sense of the responses to German power. This paper will test the predictions of two theories in international relations: Offensive Structural Realism and Institutionalism. By examining recent years of Germany and the public opinion its neighbors have of it, we can better understand which theory helps explain the status quo, and which theory would help best make predictions of attitudes towards German power. This paper will first outline a brief summary of what each theory predicts about a rising power, including which independent variables are needed to test each theory and what dependent variable should be produced. Then, each independent variable within each theory will be tested with data from recent German history, along with three European states’ public opinion of Germany. With the independent variable tests within each theory, this paper will determine whether or not the predictions of the theories were valid. After examining both theories, this paper will conclude with my argument: Offensive Structural Realism’s predictions do not hold in Germany today; but rather, the Institutionalist’s predictions do hold. Because of institutional rules and economic interdependence, German neighbors generally show no signs of fearing Germany because of its economic power.

What Are the Theory Predictions?

A Rising Power in Offensive Structural Realism?

To examine a rising power in Offensive Structural Realism, a quick overview of its assumptions is needed. In his book The Struggle of Great Power Politics, John Mearsheimer lays out the five critical assumptions that govern how states interact with each other in the international system. (1) The international system is anarchic. If there is a struggle between two states, there is no international power to help resolve the argument. This consequently leads into the second assumption: (2) states will inherently regard each other with suspicion because there is no hierarchical power to protect them from being harmed by another state. This, in turn, causes the third assumption: (3) survival is the primary goal of the state. (4) All states are rational actors. This assumption rules out any explanations of irrational or crazy behavior when observing state interaction. The last assumption is critical. (5) It states that “great powers inherently possess some offensive military capability” (Mearsheimer 2001, 30). This means that states will always have some capability to attack another and perpetuate any insecurity in the international system.

Now that a quick overview of the theory and its assumptions has been given, let’s examine what a rising power looks like and the predictions of state responses. First, Germany is a rising power today partly because it exists in a multi-polar system. This does not mean that all states on the European continent are equal in terms of power, but power in a multi-polar system is more spread among the European states. Offensive Structural Realists regard a multi-polar system as especially dangerous. Because a state’s primary goal is survival, it should be fearful of another state gaining power relative to other states in the region. Why? Offensive Structural Realism predicts that a state who gains relative power “is likely to behave more aggressively, because it has the capability as well as the incentive to do so” (Mearsheimer 2001, 37). This is because all states want to because a regional hegemonic power. This is when a state is most secure because it can control all other states around it. Consequently, they can be sure no one will harm them.

For Offensive Structural Realists, a rising power can rise in two ways. There is hard military power, which produces the most fear. Think of Germany rearming before the Second World War. An Offensive Structural Realist would say that if Germany today was building a large military and Great Britain and France were not, then German neighbors should be scared. The balance of power would be shifting to Germany and away from other states.

Yet, for the purposes of this paper, the more relevant type of power is what Mearsheimer calls latent power. He writes that latent power “is based on the size of [a state’s] population and the level of its wealth” (Mearsheimer 2001, 43). As we will see later, an Institutionalist would just call this economic power, but Mearsheimer refers to it as latent because of its potential conversion into hard power. If a state has a large population and much economic prowess, it can quickly turn that population into soldiers and the economic strength into a component of military strength. Thus, in a multipolar system, an Offensive Structural Realist would predict that when one state is gaining more latent power, its neighboring states should become more fearful.

In order to test Offensive Structural Realism in this paper, this paper will use the following independent variables for Germany, Great Britain, France, and Spain: size of military, population, and the share of wealth within the EU. Only the size of the military is a hard power indicator. The rest are latent power indicators. The dependent variable is Great Britain’s, France’s, and Spain’s public opinion of Germany. Data for the independent variables will come from the years 2008-2014. The data will be cross-referenced to the other states’ public opinion of Germany. If Germany has shown an increase in military size, has a significantly larger population, or holds more wealth than its neighbors, then Offensive Structural Realism would predict that those neighbors should be fearful of Germany. Below is a table with each variable and prediction.

Table 1

Independent Variable Dependent Variable Predicted Outcome
Size of Military Increase Fear or no Fear? Fear
Population Increase Fear or no Fear? Fear
Share of Wealth Increase Fear or no Fear? Fear



This section will provide an overview of what a rising power looks like in Institutionalism and what the predictions of state responses are. First, it must be noted that Institutionalists are similar to Offensive Structural Realists in their assumptions of how states interact with one another (Keohane 1984, x). Both theories have four of the same assumptions. However, Institutionalists do not assume that all states have some offensive capability. They do assume that (1) the international system is anarchic, (2) that states will inherently regard each other with suspicion, (3) survival is the primary goal of the state, and finally (4) that all states are rational actors. Factors like hard and economic, which is latent for Offensive Structural Realists, power are important for Institutionalists. Yet, when looking at a rising power, they believe that international regimes can help decrease the fear in the international system that would result because of a rising power. Polarity is also not a big concern. What is important is the type of regimes that the states in Europe are a part of. In other words, are the states within the region apart of regimes that, as Douglass North defines them, place “constraints that structure political, economic, and social interaction” in which the states can monitor each other, work with each other, and not forgo their own interests (North 1991, 97) (Keohane 1982, 338)?

Thus, if a state is gaining much hard or economic power, an institutionalist would first look at the institutions the state and its neighbor are a part of. If a rising power is a part of an institution, the main predictions an Institutionalist would make about such a rising power are (1) a strong and rooted regime coupled with a high degree of interdependence between states should discourage any rising power from maliciously deviating from established rules and norms, and (2) institutionalists do not fear a rising power just because it is rising; rather, they only fear it when it begins to violate established principles, rules, and norms for its own benefit. Regimes have what Axelrod and Keohane call “the shadow of the future” (Axelrod and Keohane 1985, 227). This means that strong regimes, which this paper will assume are like the EU, will damage the reputation of a state if it violates the rules at the expense of other states. Further, when a state is heavily economically interdependent with other states in an institution, it is not in their interest to deviate. Thus, the main conclusion of Institutionalism for a rising Germany in the context of this paper would be this: despite Germany gaining power economically, as long as Germany, or any rising power, is keeping with the established principles, rules, and norms of the regimes it shares with its neighbors and is economically interdependent with them, there will not be fear.

This paper will use the EU as an institution to help test two independent variables. The first independent variable will see if Germany is compliant with two specific EU monetary rules: keeping its deficit to 3% of GDP and keeping its debt as 60% of GDP (How Economic and Monetary Unions Work). The next independent variable is how economically interdependent Germany is with its neighbors. This will be measured by data from the percentage of the exports Germany sends and the imports it receives from Great Britain, France, and Spain. Both variables will be cross-referenced with public opinions of Germany. Again, Institutionalism predicts that if Germany is following the rules of the EU, and if it is economically interdependent, then despite its economic status, other states should not fear it. Below is a table below representing the independent and dependent variables along with this theory’s predictions.

Table 2

Independent Variable Dependent Variable Predicted Outcome
Follows Institution Rules Fear or no Fear? No Fear
Economic Interdependence Fear or no Fear? No Fear


What Does the Data Say?

Offensive Structural Realism

Independent Variable 1: What is the Size of the Military?

This section will examine the findings of military spending in Germany, Great Britain, France, and Spain. The spending is measured by how much each states spends as a percentage of their GDP. Further, figure 1 will also include public opinion towards Germany for the years 2008-2014. Figure 1 will be followed by a brief analysis of the findings, the dependent variable, and finally whether or not this first independent variable works for, against, or not at all in verifying the Offensive Structural Realist prediction.

Figure 1


Both Great Britain and France spend over 2% of their GDP, while Germany never spends above 1.85% of their GDP on their military (World Bank 2008-2014). Nevertheless, public opinion of Germany remains remarkable consistent in both France and Great Britain. Neither drop below 60%, and by 2014 France has an 83% approval rating while Great Britain has risen from 62% in 2008 to 86% by 2014. The only noticeable drop we see is in Spain.

Yet, in terms of evaluating this independent variable for the Offensive Structural Realist theory, Germany military spending remains considerably lower than both Great Britain and France, and it is not extraordinarily different than Spain’s. Therefore, because of the stability of Germany’s military spending, this independent variable neither helps nor hurts the Offensive Structural Realist predictions of how states should feel about Germany’s rising status. Consequently, we now look to another independent variable: population.


Independent Variable 2: What is the population?

This section will compare German population with the other three states measured and compare those numbers to public opinion of Germany. Population is measured by total number of people, but in table 3 the population growth rates will also be listed. The data in figure 2 shows that Germany has a significantly larger population that the other three states. However, it should be noted that for most years, Germany’s population rate is significantly lower than the other three states. Despite Germany having a larger population, the public opinions of the other states are generally high. The only exception would be Spain in 2014, but if fear of Germany’s population were the problem, then all states should have never started with a high public opinion in 2008.

Figure 2

Thus, the data shows that this indicator of population does not hold when testing Offensive Structural Realism. Indeed, this is one of the theory’s latent powers, and Germany’s obvious advantage in population should cause concern among its neighbors. Yet France and Great Britain’s public opinions increase. Spain’s public opinion does trend downward, but because Spain had a high opinion of Germany in 2008 while Germany’s population was high, it seems that Spain’s public opinion is not in consequence to Germany’s population advantage. Now, let’s transition to another independent variable: share of wealth.


Population Growth (%)

Source: World Bank Development Indicators (2008-2014).

State 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
DEU -0.19 -0.25 -0.15 -1.85 0.19 0.27 0.42
GBR 0.79 0.76 0.78 0.78 0.70 0.67 0.75
FRA 0.56 0.51 0.49 0.48 0.48 0.51 0.50
ESP 1.60 0.89 0.46 0.36 0.06 -0.33 -0.30

Table 3






Independent Variable 3: What is the Share of Wealth?

In this section we will examine the share of wealth of the measured states within the EU. This is measured by the total percentage of GDP each states holds of the EU’s total GDP. Below figure 3 represents only Germany, Great Britain, France, and Spain. However, figure 4 lists all

EU member states’ share of wealth in 2016.

Figure 3


In figure 3, Germany has steadily increased in its wealth share within the EU. Great Britain has seen mixed but mostly positive growth. France has been stable. Spain is the only measured state with a sizeable decrease in share of wealth within the EU. However, among France and Great Britain, public opinion of Germany has increased despite Germany’s increasing share of wealth in Europe. Spain’s public opinion has decreased.


Figure 4


With Germany having a sizeable and increasing relative share of wealth, Offensive Structural Realism would predict that other states within its region should be worried. Indeed, Mearsheimer writes that “the great powers in the international system are invariably among the world’s wealthiest states” (Mearsheimer 2001, 61). However, Great Britain and France do have a highly favorable opinion of Germany. Spain would be the only evidence in favor of Offensive Structural Realism, but because Great Britain and France are so different from Spain in their public opinions of Germany, it is reasonable to conclude that the share of wealth independent variable does not produce the dependent variable necessary to prove this theory.


Offensive Structural Realism predicts that states will become fearful of a rising power in a multi-polar system. This test case of Germany used the hard power independent variable of military spending, and two latent power independent variables in population and share of wealth. While Germany’s percentage of GDP on military spending is consistently lower than Great Britain, France, and Spain’s, the two latent power variables indicate that this theory is incorrect. Indeed, Germany’s population is much larger. It does hold a larger share of wealth in Europe. However, the data showed an increase in positive public opinion of Germany in Great Britain and France. Again, Spain is the lone exception which merits further explanation that goes outside the scope of this paper. Nevertheless, the Spanish exception does not outweigh the trends seen in Great Britain and France. If Offensive Structural Realism’s predictions were valid, Great Britain and France should have had a negative opinion of Germany, not an increasingly positive one. Therefore, Offensive Structural Realism does not hold in this case.

Table 4

Independent Variable Dependent Variable Predicted Outcome Actual Outcome
Size of Military Increase Fear or no Fear? Fear Not Applicable
Population Increase Fear or no Fear? Fear No Fear
Share of Wealth Increase Fear or no Fear? Fear No Fear



Independent Variable 1: The EU and is Germany Following Rules?

This paper is now switching to the Institutionalist theory and its first independent variable test. Germany shares many institutions with its European neighbors, especially with the three being tested today. However, this section will be concerned with the European Union and two specific monetary rules. The EU provides stringent principles, rules, and norms in which its member states must adhere to if the institution is to function properly. Concerning economic policy, the European Union coordinates the economic and fiscal policies of its member states in order to work as a single market. This requires strong supervision and monitoring of the financial policies of the member states (How Economic and Monetary Unions Work). For example, under the Growth and Stability Pact, EU member states must make their “deficits to be less than 3% GDP” and their “government debt to be less than 60% of GDP” (How Economic and Monetary Unions Work). Since all member states are invested in these agreements, they will be monitored and expected to follow them. If one-member state breaks the rules in order to pursue an egotistical advantage while other states suffer, then an Institutionalist would predict that neighboring states would have a negative opinion of that state. If Germany’s recent prospering is due to its breaking of the EU rules, then it follows that its neighboring states would hold a negative view of it.

This variable will examine the two EU rule indicators mentioned above: (1) EU member states deficits to be less than 3% GDP, and (2) EU member states keeping government debt to be less than 60% of GDP. Figure 5 examines deficit to GDP. None of the four states except for Germany were within this stated rule. Germany, likely in consequence to the EU financial crisis in 2009, did briefly dip blow 3% deficit. It goes beyond the scope of this paper to examine why each of the measured states did or did not meet the 3% benchmark. Nevertheless, the numbers do show Germany did generally, except between 2009-2011, meet this rule. Further, Great Britain and Frances’ public opinion of Germany increased over these years.

Figure 5


Figure 6 deals with debt to GDP. None of the four states measured met the EU goal of their government debt to not exceed 60% of GDP. All the states were well above that mark, but only Germany saw its debt to GDP percentage begin to decrease in 2012. Spain, on the other hand, saw its debt rise from well below 60% of GDP to over 100%. Great Britain, like Spain, also started with a debt below 60% and saw its debt rise above that benchmark. While Germany was not in compliance with this rule, none of the four states were after 2012. Therefore, this seems to eliminate the possibility of a backlash towards Germany for not being in compliance with this rule. Again, except for Spain, the public opinion of Germany increased in Great Britain and France.





Figure 6

Thus, this first independent variable shows that Germany and the other three states measured share an institution that has established principles, rules, and norms in which all member states should follow. The first indictor showed that Germany was in compliance with one of the rules. The second indicator showed that Germany did run a higher debt to GDP percentage, but all other states did as well, and Germany was the only one decreasing that debt. An Institutionalist would predict that states only become weary of a rising power if it is breaking the rules of the institution at the expense of other states. Since public opinion of Germany is high in Great Britain and France, it would seem that Germany is not breaking rules at their expense. Spain is an outlier that deserves further exploration, but its unpopularity of Germany does not seem to be tied to Germany’s incompliance of institutional rules.  Indeed, Germany is closer to compliance that Spain in these rules.


Independent Variable 2: Is there Economic Interdependence?

Another important variable in the Institutionalist theory is the economic interdependence of states. This section is concerned with data that shows the imports to Germany from the other three measured states, and the exports from Germany to those same states. This paper will then examine the economic interdependence paired with German public opinion.

Below, figure 7 shows the percentage of imports that come to Germany from other states. Spain, France, and Great Britain all differ in terms of their export percentage to Germany. There does not seem to be a correlation between the German import percentage of specific states’ and public opinion of Germany. Indeed, when the Germany was receiving the most British exports from the years measured, 2008, Great Britain had the lowest public opinion of Germany for the years measured. Thus, this indicator does not seem to particularly help or hinder the economic interdependence variable.

Figure 7

Figure 8 below maps the percentage of German exports that go to each of the following measured states. There seems to be a small correlation between the percentage of exports from Germany and the receiving state’s public opinion. Indeed, Spanish public opinion began to tumble when they received a lesser percentage of German exports. The small increase in British imports from Germany corresponds with an uptick in public opinion. However, the correlation is not strong when it comes to France, yet they still had an increasingly positive public opinion of Germany from 2012-2014, despite them receiving a lesser percentage of German exports.[1] Nevertheless, by this indicator, both Great Britain and France are much more economically interdependent with Germany than Spain. From the years 2008-2014, Great Britain and France never fell out of Germany’s top ten trading partners (UN Comtrade database 2008-2014). Spain, in all years except 2008, was outside the German top ten in both imports and exports (UN Comtrade database 2008-2014).

Thus, it seems that the Institutionalist theory is correct that economic interdependence does matter. Although Germany is itself doing well economically relative to Great Britain and France, both of those states have a significantly higher economic interdependence with Germany than Spain does with Germany. This paper does not claim that Spain’s lesser degree of economic interdependence is the sole reason for its fall in German public opinion. That subject itself deserves exploration in another paper. Yet what this paper does claim is that there is a correlation between economic interdependence and public opinion.





Figure 8


This paper tested two independent variables for the Institutionalist theory. The first was whether Germany followed the rules of a shared institution, and the data showed that Germany was in compliance with one monetary rule, and that all four states were in violation of the second rule. Thus, the first independent variable delivers murky results that do not prove or invalidated Institutionalism. The second independent variable tested was whether economic interdependence helped the public opinion of Germany. In this variable, the data showed that despite Germany’s rise, both France and Great Britain had a high degree of economic interdependence and a growing favorable view of Germany. Again, Spain is an outlier in terms of their opinion of Germany. But Spain is also not as economically interdependent with Germany. That could be part of the reason for Spain’s falling opinion of Germany. The table below juxtaposes Institutionalism’s predicted outcomes against the actual outcomes of this test case. It would seem that Institutionalism offers greater explanatory power.

Table 5

Independent Variable Dependent Variable Predicted Outcome Actual Outcome
Shared Institutions Fear or no Fear? No Fear Unable to account
Economic Interdependence Fear or no Fear? No Fear No Fear



This section discusses some brief caveats of this test case. The first has to do with the three states selected. It would have been ideal to compare Germany against more states. However, due to the time and length limitations, this paper could only test three instead of more. Also, in terms of the Institutionalist independent variables, there is much more to be said and researched about the different rules the EU has for its member states and whether Germany is in compliance with them. This paper chose the deficit and debt to GDP percentages because those were especially prevalent during the years of 2008-2014. Yet a further study into the compliance of those and other rules would strengthen this topic. The same goes for economic interdependence, especially concerning Spain. Further exploration into whether Spain has a better outlook on states with whom Spain has a greater import and export relationship could further strengthen this paper’s claim that a lesser trade relationship could lead states to have a less favorable opinion of their stronger neighbors. Another case that should be explored related to this topic is how to other EU states feel about German influence in the EU? This paper showed public opinion towards Germany but not towards German influence in the EU. Lastly, there is a ‘what-if’ question of whether Great Britain and France would still have high opinions of Germany if Germany was increasing its military spending. Of course, this test case cannot answer that question. Yet if one could find such a test case, it would either help validate the Institutionalist theory or show that more exploration is warranted.


This paper sought to explore how German neighbors feel about Germany as a rising power. Does German economic prosperity lead to less German popularity among its neighbors, or do the institutions in which Germany and its neighbors are a part of keep such unpopularity in check? The data of German public opinion showed that in Great Britain and France, public opinion in Germany increased between 2008-2014. In Spain, public opinion of Germany fell. This paper used the public opinion data to test the predictions of two international relations theories in order to see which had the most explanatory power. Despite Germany having a larger population and holding a larger share of wealth in the EU, none of the Offensive Structural Realist predictions held. One of the Institutionalist predictions did. What does this mean in context for present-day Germany? It would seem that if Germany continues to reside in institutions with its neighbors, and if Germany can keep a high degree of economic interdependence with them, then German neighbors should not fear German power. Indeed, Spain did have a lower public opinion of Germany by 2014, but Spain was not as economically intertwined with Germany either. Of course, more data and years could help to make this argument stronger. Nevertheless, what data does strongly show is that states do not fear Germany just because it holds more wealth in Europe or has a higher population. In other words, neighboring states do not fear Germany because it has more power in and of itself. If a state in Europe has a lower public opinion of Germany, it must stem from a more nuanced reason.


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[1] Their lack of German imports may be offset by their increase in exports to Germany.

[2] I chose this chart as the jumping-off point of this paper. It shows a consistent climb in Germany’s share of EU wealth while the other three states are not as consistent.

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