Make it go away

Germans don’t really worry about Brexit and want EU to be uncompromising

Traditional Rose Monday carnival parade in Duesseldorf
Germany isn't taking Brexit too seriously. Source: Reuters

On the morning of June 24, 2016, we Germans woke up to the results of the Brexit referendum with utter disbelief and great regret. Most of us had trusted in the legendary pragmatism of the British that would push them to vote for an unenthusiastic, but rational “remain”. Two years later, what do Germans think about Brexit and its consequences?

The British Chamber of Commerce in Germany, KPMG, Open Europe Berlin and the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum (OMFIF) asked Forsa to conduct a representative survey of the German population.

Germans keep regretting Brexit …

Some 62 percent of respondents “regret the UK leaving the EU.” That is almost unchanged from the results immediately after the referendum. This “Bregret” is more pronounced in western Germany (65 percent) than in the eastern parts (50 percent). Supporters of the Green Party show the most regret (83 percent). Only the supporters of the eurosceptic AfD (46 percent) do not regret Brexit all that much.

… but don’t see it as a major foreign-policy concern.

At the same time, Germans show quite some Brexit-fatigue. We deem other foreign-policy challenges more urgent. Only a minority of 39 percent are actually very concerned about Brexit. Germans have much more Angst about the US-presidency of Donald Trump (82 percent), the crises in the Middle East (75 percent), the nuclear situation in North Korea (71 percent), and tensions between Europe and Russia (66 percent).

Only 38 percent expect a “hard Brexit” of total separation.

Germans remain strongly in favour of EU-membership …

If a remain-or-leave EU-referendum were held in Germany, 82 percent would vote Remain and only 14 percent Leave, exactly as in June 2016. Again, supporters of the Green party (91 percent Remain) are the most pro-EU. Only AfD supporters would favour “Dexit” (73 percent).

… but they are not sure about other members.

About 42 percent of Germans believe that other countries may leave the EU, whereas 46 percent do not. This is not a sign of massive confidence in the future of the EU as it is today. Especially easterners, the less educated, and supporters of the extreme left and right think the EU will unravel.

More Germans now think Germany-UK relations are worse because of Brexit …

Asked whether the relationship between Germany and the UK has worsened since the Brexit decision, 42 percent say “yes” and 48 percent say “no”.

… but only a few think EU-27 cooperation will easier without the UK.

Only 11 percent of Germans expect cooperation between the remaining 27 EU member states will become “easier” after Brexit. Almost half think there will be little change, and 39 percent even believe cooperation will be “more difficult”.

Germans expect (only) some damage to their own economy …

Germans mostly expect “no influence” (41 percent) on their own economy from Brexit. A “rather damaging” effect is expected by 33 percent and “rather beneficial” consequences by 15 percent.

… mainly because they still expect the EU and UK to agree on a “soft Brexit” …

About 53 percent said a “soft Brexit” is more likely. This would include the UK remaining close to the customs union and the single market. Only 38 percent expect a “hard Brexit” of total separation.

… even though they don’t want the EU to be “soft” during negotiations.

A large majority of Germans (65 percent) wants the EU to stand firm against Britain during the talks. The share of “hardliners” is highest amongst supporters of the Greens party (75 percent) and the Social Democrats (71 percent) and lowest amongst eastern Germans (46 percent) and AfD supporters (47 percent).

Especially this last finding once more reaffirms a certain “Kantian” attitude of Germans as sticklers for principles and opponents of “cherry picking”. Lord Dahrendorf already in 1979 derided this attitude as some “strange puritanism, not to say masochism”, according to which “Europe has to hurt in order to be good.”

The German business community is much more concerned.

Parallel to the Forsa poll, the British Chamber of Commerce in Germany surveyed 225 firms doing business in Germany and the UK. This business community is much more pessimistic. An overwhelming majority of 73 percent believes that Brexit will damage the German economy, and a clear majority of 55 percent expects a “hard Brexit”.

The biggest concerns are tariffs and other trade barriers (61 percent), restrictions on labor mobility 49 percent, tax changes (47 percent), disruptions in supply chains (47 percent), licensing and patent problems (41 percent). The poll also showed that 51 percent of companies have already taken concrete precautions to prepare for Brexit.

Overall, these various survey results should be cause for concern for the British government. German businesses may worry about Brexit, but ordinary German voters don’t. Moreover, they want the EU to be unyielding during negotiations.

To contact the author: gastautor@handelsblatt.com

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