Germany in the Eyes of the World. Greater Demand and Challenges than Ever Before

Germany is a respected and valued country; however, it should learn to play a more decisive role within the international community. This is the key result of a global GIZ survey – conducted for the third time. “Germany should be more involved on a global scale. The role of the US in global governance is too dominant. I have hopes for a strong Europe – it’s important for the whole world.” Our respon­dents use these and similar words to demand that Germany swiftly shed its historically inherited inhibitions.

Within a little over seventy years, Germany transformed from an ‘enemy state’ – its designation at the founding of the United Nations – “Germany needs to develop a vision of the role it wants to play in the world.” INDIA to a valued and indispensable member of the international community: a respected country, with great expectations regarding its international role. A country which is expected to actively confront global challenges instead of holding back. A country that intervenes instead of remaining a ­spectator on the ‘bench’ of international politics, as Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier recent­ly expressed.

“Go ahead, try on the larger shoes – you’ll find they fit!” This was the message we gathered from the first “Germany Study” in 2012. Interviewees believed that Germany should play a more active role in the world, and live up to its economic power and political reputation. At the time, this result was met with surprise. After all, Germany steered clear of important or fully autonomous decisions after the tragedies of the Second World War and, in doing so, regained the trust of the international community. Still after the reunification, there were severe reservations and concerns regarding a larger Germany in the centre of Europe. Would Germans become hungry for power again? Would they acutely enforce German interests?

Fears and concerns such as these could only be calmed through repeated promises of continued restraint. Today, a quarter century later, the world seems to have undergone a complete transformation and the image of the ‘ugly German’ seems to have dissolved.

A Committed, but Well-intentioned Leadership Role

The Economist recently referred to the country as ‘Cool Germany’, continuing to note that the nation is becoming more open, diverse, and could serve as a model for the entire West. The GIZ’s conversation partners were not as casual and relaxed as the British magazine in their description, but their statements read along the same lines: the three studies entitled Germany in the Eyes of the World follow a clear shift in Germany’s image, linked to a consistent wish for more international engagement.

“Germany plays a key role in preserving the EU, and the whole world has an interest in that happening.” IRAN

While the statements remained encouraging in 2012, they carry more urgency in 2018. At the time, Germany had been invited to leave behind its inhibiting history and dare more; however, by 2015, the perception was that Germany had dared to venture out in light of the financial and Greek debt crisis, yet not cheerfully or voluntarily. Germany had indeed put on bigger shoes back then, but rather unwillingly and – the keyword being politics of austerity – not to everyone’s liking.

Now, in our third study, the quiet tones of six years ago have given way to an almost consensual and loud chorus: the world is in turmoil, Europe is needed, you are needed as guardians of Western values. Also and especially as a counterbalance to the three superpowers – the US, Russia, and China – all of whom have recently, each in their own way, adopted more unilateral positions and exhibit Cold War tendencies.

“I see a change in comparison to the last study. Germany has now a more humane image.” USA

This role is reinforced by threats to global trade in conjunction with the realignment of international power and burden-sharing. According to the interviewees, a global political vacuum has emerged, with only a few states trustworthy enough to fill it – and Germany among them. The EU’s weaknesses and changes in the international community lead to great expectations of Germany.

To word it more precisely, the surveys findings become clearer from study to study: Germany is expected to assume far more tasks than it can manage and might want to take on. From an environmental role model function to mediating in crises and conflicts; from the transfer of new technologies to the protection of human rights; from saving the EU to the collapse of the United Nations – there is little that the world does not look to Germany for. This inspired former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan last year to believe that ‘Germany’s big moment’ had arrived. Nevertheless, and this is where the country’s past image remains, the world does not expect a solitary and inflexible leadership role from Germany, nor an insensible or Eurocentric one.

What the world expects is sound judgement and collaboration. In other words: a well-intentioned leadership role that may have an eye on its own interests and is allowed to do so, but views them as part of the whole. To paraphrase the statements from the study regarding Germany’s future international role, the country is expected to exercise soft power, with vision and the will to make a difference. In order to fulfil this role, Germany requires a stronger sense of awareness of its global position, a willingness to think and act strategically, and – perhaps most importantly – a vision for its own future.

A Softer, More Humane Face

Germany’s response to the influx of refugees in September 2015 may have caused trouble within the country. It may have sparked controversial and painful debates on the question of integration and the country’s personal identity. However, it caused no damage to Germany’s international reputation. On the contrary: it only increased Germany’s credibility.

Evidently, this does not mean that the outside world is oblivious to the challenges of integrating refugees or the question of what it means to be German. “Germany is built on a foundation of values, and it wants people to prosper.” GHANA In the same vein, the respondents do not mean for Germany to become less international in its outlook. In fact, this is exactly what many wish to see more of – from exhibiting a greater openness towards others, to actively promoting the use of foreign languages. Still, Germany’s treatment of refugees has somewhat softened the image of the typical hard-working and efficient German, and added the new characteristic of a global humanitarian citizen.

In fact, compared to the previous studies, no topic characterises this third study as much as the influx of refugees into Germany. The so-called ‘welcoming culture’ appears to be a catalyst of the nation’s image change. In this respect, in spite of the continued overall trend, the study also demonstrates clear individual differences. It should be noted that in the latest survey, the strong urge for Germany to adopt a more active international role, as well as the attitude during the refugee crisis, are the two most striking findings. These are joined by other topics that do not contradict the two main findings but complement them. These topics relate to the country’s value system, institutions, its economic power, and its global marketing up to now. Here too, Germany received – in spite of discrepancies in some areas – mostly good grades, which only increases the demand for greater global responsibility.

Stable Values

Even with all external and internal changes, Germany has remained true to itself in the eyes of the world. It stays a value-orientated country which holds constitutionality, human rights, equality, and personal responsibility in high regard. These values serve as a cornerstone for the German system, presumably because they are protected by a strong institutional framework and inculcated from a young age. German laws apply equally to all and class mentality is – quite unlike in many other countries – rather weakly pronounced.

And yet, there are rifts and contradictions in the eyes of outside observers – from the German arms exports to gender inequality. Germany is one of the largest producers and exporters of arms; some respondents ask themselves how this rhymes with humanist principles and human rights. Interviewees are also surprised by how this otherwise modern country shows itself to be relatively conservative when it comes to social issues – especially as concerns gender equality, childcare, and family structures. How does this fit in with the principle of equality? Overall, though, the interviewees respect, and even admire, Germany’s value system.

Strong Foundation

Germany is equally highly valued abroad for its advanced system of government. “The Germans shouldn’t keep churning things over and testing everything, they should be willing to take a few more risks. If you dare, you’ll succeed.” UKRAINE The success of this system can predominantly be traced back to constitutional institutions and the federal structure. Its functioning party system – perceived as such in spite of growing populist currents –, in combination with a pronounced culture of debate, provides a strong foundation.

Together with its model welfare state, Germany is generally regarded as mature and exemplary abroad, despite its occasional tendency to excessive bureaucracy. An active civil society and a strong culture of consensus and debate complete this picture. Additionally, many other parts of the world commend Germany for its high standard of living, comparatively high social security, and a functioning healthcare system – which leads many of them to aspire to similar ideals.

Strong Economy

The reputation of Germany as a location of business is also considered to be excellent, although the recent diesel scandal may have done some damage to this image. The international community primarily sees Germany as a powerful economy with strong and highly valued brands. Quality is a top priority. The interviewees also trace Germany’s successful economy back to its dual system of vocational educational and work-based training, as well as its applied research.

Simultaneously, interviewees express doubts whether ‘Made in Germany’ is simply too expensive, irrespective of quality. “Germany has a lot to o er but it doesn’t promote itself enough. Germans should blow their own trumpets more.” BRAZIL There are some who wonder whether or not Germany might be living off its past laurels, not worrying enough about its future in the digital age. Surprisingly, aside from the country’s risk-aversion, interviewees also noted a considerable dose of technological reluctance – particularly astounding in a country renowned for its technological standards. Instead of trying and creating new things, Germans put too much emphasis on security and less on frameworks, which also enable disruptive changes.

Better Marketing of the Country and the People

Despite their appreciation for Germany – or because of it – many of the interviewees wonder why Germany does so little to sell itself on a global scale. Why does Germany not market itself more? Why does it not make more noise? Why does it not advertise the country and its people more effectively?

Classic brands and influential German thinkers such as Mercedes, Porsche, and BMW, as well as Goethe and Schiller, are well known abroad; however, there is little or insufficient awareness of the rest. This clearly demonstrates inadequate communication in spite of all the evidence of outside interest. Berlin’s status as a ‘hip’ metropolis in the heart of Europe has offered interviewees a glimpse of the other, more modern, interesting, and vibrant Germany. People want to see more of this side – and wonder why Germany does not invest more in cultural marketing as a strategic tool, as other countries have been doing for a long time.

Great Expectations of Germany

The third survey in this series of studies clearly reveals: neither the interest in, nor the expectations of Germany, have decreased. On the contrary: foreign observers have great hopes for Germany when it comes to the future of the world order. They trust Germany and France to strengthen the EU and uphold and develop the multilateral ideal. The way the interviewees see it, the ‘Old Continent’ is by no means defined by the ‘Old World’, as a popular thesis once postulated. Instead they are hoping Germany will act as an intermediary between the East, West, and South – and not just geographically.

As interviewees repeatedly state and strongly believe, in order for Germany to harness the strength to play a more active part in global politics, it must shed its ‘restrictive’ history once and for all and emerge from the shadow of its past. The country’s history remains and should never be forgotten. Still, it should no longer serve an obstructive, but rather a driving function. Germany’s particular coming to terms with the past makes the country a credible advocate for international cooperation. The international community trusts Germany to act with sound judgement and not fall back into old patterns.

The essence of the three GIZ studies is as follows: a country with this level of potential and standard of living, which bases itself on a solid foundation of values, possesses a functioning political system, intact institutions, and a – still – formidable economy, should live up to its global responsibility. Anything else would be negligent in the face of the many global challenges, and reckless considering the country’s own future.

“Germans still write letters. By hand. They put them in an envelope, go to the post office and queue up for ages to post them. And, best of all, they still pay cash, using coins and notes.” CHINA

The interviewees can be interpreted as demanding that, by the year 2030, Germany should belong to the circle of countries which actively shape international politics and cooperation within and with a stronger Europe. This includes mediation, reconciliation, and the possible need for occasional conflict intervention.

But it will also involve an active policy for Africa on the basis of equal partnership with African nations – and much more. Through all of this, Germany should uphold values such as freedom and liberty, free trade, human rights, and the principle of sustainability, without simultaneously imposing a German or European stamp on the world. This is a truly complex task, given that Europe alone presents many challenges, not to mention the remaining tasks ahead. Nevertheless, foreign opinion is clear: this is precisely what it sees as the future mission and aspiration for this central European power. It is thus clear that Germany is only at the beginning of a long debate about where and how it would like to position itself in the world of the future.

Dr. Christoph Beier (56) is one of GIZ’s Managing Directors and Vice-Chair of the Management Board. He joined GIZ more than twenty years ago, since when he has held a number of posts inside and outside Germany, including a period in Indonesia. He has also headed the Planning and Development Department. He began his career in the Saarland at the Saarland Economic Promotion Corporation and the state Ministry for Economic Affairs. His experience includes a period as a lecturer and research scientist at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB). ­Beier has been actively involved in all of the Germany in the Eyes of the World studies, and was the responsible Managing Director for all three.