Foreign policy and other countries’ politics don’t usually grip the public in an election year. But US President Donald Trump’s antics, British politicians’ recklessness and a new political beginning in France are fascinating many in Germany and partly changing their view of the world.
In particular Mr. Trump’s criticism of globalization and free trade, as well as climate protection and German export surpluses, not to mention his focus on “America first,” have made the Germans even more conscious than they were before of the importance of global markets and mutual interdependency.
This in turn is increasing people‘s approval of globalization and free trade. A majority was already convinced that the German economy profits from globalization; between 2015 and the end of 2016 just over 50 percent felt this way. That figure is now 63 percent according to our latest polling (see graphic below).
The overwhelming majority of Germans also consider free trade to be very important for the economy – despite their ambivalence over the free trade treaties CETA and TTIP that the European Union signed – and still hopes to sign – with Canada and the United States respectively. Now 82 percent consider it essential for Germany to conduct free trade with other states.
Indeed a country like Germany is unlikely to underestimate the importance of open borders. Its geopolitical position and integration in the European Union and NATO have taught Germany not to be inward-looking and concentrate solely on its own interests. Germans do not tend to be isolationist. Faced with today‘s challenges, the vast majority of people would consider it wrong for Germany to look for solutions on its own and concentrate above all on national interests.
Our poll finds that 74 percent are convinced that only close cooperation with other EU states is the successful route. True, about 36 percent of Germans agree that national interests should take on more relevance – ahead of other countries – but 47 percent emphatically contradicted this view. People interested in politics tend to be even more outward looking: Just 32 percent of them would like to see a stronger focus on national interests, while 54 percent would not.
A clear majority of citizens (55 percent) are also convinced that it would be wrong to specifically pursue a policy of “Germany first” as it does not sit well with membership of the European Union, which is being called into question by fewer Germans than ever before. Ever since Britain voted to leave the bloc, support of EU membership and the awareness of the value of the European state alliance has even increased. Our polling has found 77 percent of citizens would now vote in favor of EU membership if they were asked – only 9 percent would vote against it.
A majority is also against the idea of first and second-class membership. In view of the very different economic situation and development of member states, there are repeated discussions about a proposal to establish a “Europe of two speeds.” The idea is that some member states would cooperate more closely and proceed with integration more quickly than others. While there has been growing support for such a concept in recent years, only a minority in Germany thinks it would be successful. A majority fears that a “Europe of two speeds” would more likely lead to divisions in the EU.
Many fear the EU is already being weakened by diverging national interests. Germans would like to see more cohesion – particularly in the light of the way American politics is going. Three-quarters of citizens think European countries should to intensify their cooperation.
If the population has its way, Mr. Trump and the British Brexiteers could be the unwilling godfathers of a new, more cohesive Europe.
This article first appeared in the German business weekly WirtschaftsWoche, a sister publication of Handelsblatt.