Transatlantic Trends 2014 shows a German public willing to see NATO and the EU take on greater responsibility for territorial defence and engaging with Ukraine — although with a distinct preference for traditional methods like economic assistance. At the same time, the German-U.S. relationship appears to have cooled off markedly.
Sixty percent of German respondents described strong U.S. leadership as desirable, compared to 63% in 2013. However, 57% of German respondents wanted their country to take an approach in security and diplomatic affairs that was more independent from the United States,up 17 percentage points from 2013 — the first time this view was expressed by a majority.
The number of Germans who said they wanted a closer relationship with the United States decreased from 25% to 19%. Germans were also less likely to hold a favorable opinion of the United States: the percent expressing a favorable impression dropped from 68% in 2013 to 58% this year. Fifty-six percent of German respondents approved of the way U.S. President Barack Obama is handling international policy, a 20 percentage point drop from 2013, while 38% disapproved, an increase of 19 percentage points.
Asked about the European Union, 75% expressed a favorable opinion — only Polish respondents felt more strongly (76%). Eighty-seven percent, by far the highest approval rate in Europe, said a strong leadership role for the European Union was desirable.
Majorities in Germany expressed opposition to Russian and Chinese leadership. Fifty-nine percent of German respondents said strong Russian leadership was undesirable (down ten percentage points from 2013), while 70% said they had an unfavorable opinion of Russia.Fewer respondents in Germany reported a negative view of China: 62% said that they had an unfavorable opinion, a nine percentage point decrease from 2013, while the number who held a favorable opinion increased six percentage points from 22% to 28%. Still, strong Chinese leadership was described as undesirable by 68% — an increase of three percentage points from 2013.
THE ECONOMY, THE EU, AND IMMIGRATION
German respondents were less concerned than others in the survey about economic issues.Only 17% said that the economy is the most important issue facing Germany at the moment,compared to 26% of Europeans and 28% of Americans. Seventy percent of German respondents said that they have not been personally affected by the economic crises, an increase of 14 percentage points since 2013, compared to 41% of Europeans and 26% of Americans.
Germany continues to be one of the most pro-European EU member states. Asked if member-ship in the European Union was a good or bad thing for Germany, 76% of respondents said it was a good thing, again the highest approval in Europe. Thirty-two percent of the Germans who said that the EU had been good for their country, when asked why they said this, chose the response “the EU is a community of democracies that should act together”; 28% said “the European Union has maintained peace in Europe.” Germans were the most confident (60%) that the use of the euro had been a good thing, an eight percentage point increase from 2013 and a 15 percentage point increase since 2010. Twenty-two percent of Germans felt the countries most affected by the crisis were not doing enough to combat it, 11% thought was the EU was not doing enough, and 47% blamed both.
Fifty-one percent of respondents in Germany disapproved of the way their government is handling immigration, compared to 60% in Europe and 71% in the United States. When asked about national policy toward refugees, Germany was the only country polled in which a relatively high number of people said that policies should be less restrictive (31%), with a smaller group saying they should be more restrictive (29%); 38%, however, would prefer refugee policies to stay as they currently are. Two-thirds of German respondents (65%) were not worried about immigration from withinthe EU. Fifty-one percent expressed concern about immigration from outsidethe EU, and 47% said they were not worried — compared to 42% in Europe.In contrast to most Europeans (58%), only 33% of German respondents described emigration as a problem; 65% said it is not a problem.
TRANSATLANTIC SECURITY COOPERATION
Sixty-four percent of Germans said NATO is still essential for their country’s security, along with 61% of Europeans and 58% of Americans. Seventy-six percent said NATO should be engaged in the territorial defense of Europe. Germans expressed comparatively strong opposition to NATO military operations outside of North America and Europe; 63% said that NATO should not be engaged in out-of-area- missions, second only to Greece (69%). But when asked if NATO should be engaged in establishing stability in places like Afghanistan, 52% said yes and 45% said no. Germans had mixed feelings about providing arms or training to help other countries defend themselves: 46% were for and 49% against (but 54% were against if Ukraine was mentioned as a specific example).
Germans expressed strong support for providing economic and political support to Ukraine even if it carries a risk of increasing conflict with Russia (65%, compared to 58% of Europeans in general and 57% of Americans). When asked about other options to support Ukraine,Germans expressed a clear preference for increasing economic support (77%), while rejecting NATO or EU membership for Ukraine (67% and 63%, respectively) or sending military equipment (85%). Germans were split about imposing stronger economic sanctions on Russia, with 49% for and 50% against.