Transatlantic relations in focus: “Berlin Pulse” survey with the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum

Berlin Foreign Policy Forum

Berlin Foreign Policy Forum, © David Ausserhofer

24.11.2020 - Article

Following the elections in the US, 78% of Germans expect that transatlantic relations will return to normal. And: the majority see the issue of displacement and migration as the greatest foreign policy challenge. These are the findings of a survey by the Körber-Stiftung and Pew Research Center.

Foreign Minister Maas at the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum
Foreign Minister Maas at the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum© David Ausserhofer

What do people in Germany think about foreign-policy issues, how interested are they in global developments and what do they expect of policymakers? The Hamburg-based Körber-Stiftung has been examining these questions since 2017, in cooperation with the Pew Research Center, as part of the “Berlin Pulse” survey. People in Germany and the United States were interviewed, and this year the survey was supplemented by a survey in the United Kingdom commissioned by the British Embassy in Berlin.

Transatlantic relations: a return to normal hoped for following Biden’s election victory

This year’s survey spotlights relations between Germany and the United States. At the beginning of November, in addition to “Berlin Pulse”, the Körber-Stiftung conducted a survey on the US elections among Germans. The results show that Biden’s victory gives cause for optimism, but cannot completely dispel people’s concerns. 78% of Germans expect transatlantic relations under President Biden to return to normal. Just over half, however, feel that their confidence in American democracy has been shaken by the elections and believe that Germany and Europe should become less dependent on the United States.

On many key global issues, Germans are not currently counting on partnership with the United States. They are particularly critical with regard to the issue of environmental protection (84% negative). Likewise with regard to relations with China (63%), free trade (58%) and engagement for democracy and human rights (57%) the majority of Germans do not perceive the United States as a partner.

As far as American domestic policy is concerned, perceptions of the United States in Germany are dominated by the issue of racism (mentioned by 30% of those surveyed). 28% cited President Trump as a dominant factor in shaping their image of the US, a further 10% listed healthcare and social issues.

The United States and China: concern about confrontations

In spring, the German population was divided on whether the United States or China were more important for Germany. That seems to have been just a reflection of that moment in time: now, 56% state that the US is clearly more important. We see a similar picture in the comparison between Russia and the United States: here, 51% lean towards the US.

People on both sides of the Atlantic view the potential for confrontation between the United States and China with concern. Two-fifths are concerned about the emergence of a new Cold War. If this should come to pass, the United States will not be able to rely on the active support of the German people: 82% are of the opinion that Germany should remain neutral in that case.

Greatest foreign policy challenge: displacement and migration

In response to the question of the greatest challenge facing German foreign policy, last year’s winner, “Climate and the environment”, was in last place this time. However, the greatest challenge is not COVID-19, either, but displacement and migration (ranked second in 2019). British survey participants perceive Brexit to be the most important issue by a long way.

Germans remain divided on the issue of their country’s engagement on the global stage: as in 2019, less than half of those surveyed favour more engagement; 49% call for restraint. 

Foreign Minister Maas opens Berlin Foreign Policy Forum

The results of the survey will be presented at the Körber-Stiftung’s Berlin Foreign Policy Forum, which Foreign Minister Heiko Maas will open on 24 November. Since it was founded in 2011, the Forum has been bringing together around 250 high-ranking national and international representatives from the spheres of politics, government, think tanks and the media each year to discuss foreign policy challenges facing Germany and Europe. This year, the Forum will take place online, thereby allowing more people than usual to participate: 1200 participants have already registered. This year’s motto is: “Turning Crisis into Opportunity? Europe in a (Post-) Pandemic World”.


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