The times are long since past when negotiations in back rooms and secret pacts were a part of foreign policy, when decisions were the sole prerogative of statesmen. In democratic countries today, foreign policy decisions are discussed in public, and have to be explained and justified.
But what do the people in Germany really think about foreign policy issues, how interested are they in other – possibly distant – parts of the world, and how do they expect German foreign policy to respond? The Körber Foundation asked some of these questions in a new representative survey published in December 2018. Read the results here: https://www.koerber-stiftung.de/en/the-berlin-pulse
More responsibility or more restraint: a matter of contention
The idea that Germany should assume greater international responsibility has been a matter of debate for several years. The public’s attitude seems to keep shifting. At the end of 2018, only 41% of the population agreed that Germany should assume greater international responsibility; 55% of the Germans favoured greater restraint.
This represents a slight increase in people’s willingness for Germany to do more for peace and for the preservation of the international order in comparison with 2014 (37%). However, it is a significant reduction compared to 25 years ago, when a clear majority said they thought Germany should do more on the world stage (62% in 1994).
When asked about German involvement in specific international conflicts, a different picture emerges. 48% of those polled wanted Germany to increase its efforts to bring about a peaceful settlement in Syria. Only 40% felt that Germany had done enough to end the war there.
A wide range of foreign policy challenges
The range of foreign policy challenges that Germany is perceived to face is wider than perhaps expected. 30% of respondents put migration in top place, closely followed by relations with the US, which was deemed most important by 28%. A majority of Germans also consider these issues to be more pressing than relations with Turkey (13%) and Russia (10%). 14% of those polled said the main challenge was the war in Syria.
European Union viewed primarily as a peace project by majority
In contrast, only 4% of respondents considered cohesion within the European Union to be an important issue. 63% believe the EU is not on the right track, and 77% feel in particular that cohesion between member states has weakened. In the field of refugee policy, 78% want Germany to coordinate its policy more closely with its European partners. Only 20% think that Germany should largely determine its own refugee policy.
The responses concerning the EU’s achievements were also interesting. A relative majority (47%) thought that preserving peace between the countries in Europe was the EU’s greatest achievement. 35% attached particular importance to values upheld by the EU, such as freedom of expression, the rule of law and democracy. Only 8% considered increasing prosperity through the single market to be a key advantage of the EU, and only 7% put personal benefits such as freedom of travel in first place.
We need to talk more!
How should German foreign policy respond to this survey? Numbers alone are not enough to go on. What we would really like is a wide debate on Germany’s role in the world and responsibility on the world stage. With this aim in mind, the Federal Foreign Office started trying to strengthen public debate on new challenges for German foreign policy several years ago.
How can I get involved?
You are warmly invited to join the debate! There are many ways to do this. Talk to us live at one of these forums, or attend one of our Open Situation Rooms. Upcoming events are announced on our website at: https://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/de/aamt/aussenpolitiklive/04-veranstaltungskalender. Or check out @AuswaertigesAmt on Twitter or Facebook.