Majority in favour of multilateralism

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the Körber‑Stiftung’s Berlin Foreign Policy Forum. Berlin, 26 November 2019

Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the Körber‑Stiftung’s Berlin Foreign Policy Forum. Berlin, 26 November 2019, © Xander Heinl/photothek.net

27.11.2019 - Article

Since 2014, the Körber‑Stiftung has conducted surveys on Germans’ attitudes to foreign-policy developments. The current findings show that there is growing support for more international engagement and that the majority of people in Germany see climate change as the most important challenge.

What do people in Germany think about foreign‑policy issues, how interested are they in other – possibly distant – parts of the world, and what do they expect of policymakers? The Hamburg‑based Körber‑Stiftung conducted a representative survey on these questions for its annual report, which is regarded as one of the most important benchmarks for how the German public sees German foreign policy. The report guides the work of the German Government, international organisations and other foreign‑policy players. The most important findings were as follows.

International engagement

There is growing support for greater German engagement aimed at fostering peace and preserving the international order. In 2014, only 37 percent of the respondents were in favour of greater German engagement in international crises, but this figure rose to around 41 percent in 2018, with 43 percent currently calling for greater German participation in tackling international crises.

This does not necessarily mean military engagement. A significant majority (57 percent) is in favour of responding to the current challenges facing the international order by strengthening multilateral agreements and organisations. Forty percent of the respondents also wanted higher expenditure on defence. However, the majority (41 percent) wants to keep defence expenditure at its current level, while 15 percent want this expenditure to be reduced.

Foreign‑policy challenges

The current Körber‑Stiftung report shows that there has been a significant shift in how current foreign‑policy challenges are perceived. For example, 31 percent of Germans regard climate change and environmental issues as particularly urgent, compared with only five percent a year ago. The second most important issue was migration, which 26 percent saw as particularly important compared with 30 percent the previous year. Relations with the US were rated as the third most important issue, with 23 percent of the respondents regarding this as a major foreign‑policy challenge. In fourth place were the conflicts in the Middle East (16 percent) and Brexit (nine percent).

A Europe that is able to act

Particularly when it comes to foreign‑policy issues, a clear majority of Germans wants the EU to be more capable of acting. Almost two‑thirds of the respondents (63 percent) were in favour of qualified majority voting in European foreign policy. Only 31 percent wanted to adhere to the current requirement for unanimity. 77 percent wanted closer cooperation in the EU with France, which 60 percent of people in Germany regard as the country’s most important international partner.


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