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As Brexit looms, France and Germany are set to take the reins of the European Union’s future. A study commissioned by Allianz gauges the current economic and political sentiment in the two nations...Allianz SE
Britain may be saying goodbye but France and Germany are still firmly wedded to the European Union, particularly because of the prospects it offers to the young. With the imminent departure of Britain from the EU, the relationship between France and Germany is expected to shape the future of the region.
A survey commissioned by Allianz and conducted by the Institut fuer Demoskopie Allensbach found that 49 percent of German and 41 percent of French respondents believe that the prospects of younger generations (those under the age of 30) were better with their country’s membership in the EU.
Recent events have made the citizens of the two countries more aware of the common challenges they face and heightened their interest in the political and economic situation in their neighbor.
In Germany, interest in the developments in France grew to 59 percent in 2017 from 39 percent in the previous survey conducted in 2015. In France, it increased to 48 percent from 38 percent. But the study of the mood in the two countries suggests the French and the Germans are worried about different things at the moment. A quick look at the findings...
Ahead of the federal elections in September, the Germans seem to be cautiously optimistic about their future. On an economic front, Germany is still experiencing an upswing that started more than ten years ago. Reforms in the early years of the century helped boost the labor market and improve the material situation of broad sections of the population.
Of the German respondents interviewed, 86 percent believe the economic situation is ‘good or very good’, with just 8 percent being critical and a tiny 1 percent being very critical. Despite lingering unease caused by the global financial crisis of 2008, the Germans remain optimistic. Most are convinced that the positive economic trend will continue, with just 13 percent being skeptical.
The vast majority of respondents believe they live in a society characterized by dynamic changes that offer ‘good or very good’ conditions for business and good opportunities for the young. A little over half the respondents see Germany offering good prospects. Just over a third has a contrarian view.
However, the positive view did not extend to the political climate in Germany. While the majority believes that political stability remains the country’s strength, there was a drop from 2015 in the share of respondents expressing confidence in the quality of the government - 39 percent in 2017 versus nearly half two years ago.
The perception of political stability also suffered due to social developments such as the migrant crisis and right-wing extremism. About 72 percent of the respondents saw the political situation as stable versus 81 percent in 2015.
Reducing social inequalities, strengthening the education system, setting up better crime-fighting capabilities and securing pensions are important issues Germans respondents want addressed. More than half the Germans respondents felt such problems can be addressed through gradual, smaller reforms while just over a quarter advocated far-reaching reforms.
The survey - conducted before the presidential elections in France that resulted in an impressive win for Emmanuel Macron – suggested a somber mood in the country. The feeling of malaise can be attributed to prolonged economic weakness and high unemployment, especially among youth.
France has struggled to implement reforms in recent years. Almost three-quarters of French respondents believed their society is stuck in a rut and changing little. This feeling has grown since the survey in 2015, when 63 percent felt that way. Less than a quarter of French respondents were positive on their country’s economic situation, with the rest being critical or very critical.
Even more alarming was the pessimism over the prospects of millennials and Gen X. Only 21 percent of the respondents felt that the younger generation has good prospects in France, with 76 percent expressing dissatisfaction or outright alarm.
In France, the biggest concern is the labor market. Reducing unemployment was seen by 81 percent of the respondents as critical. Nearly three-quarters believed that steps taken by policymakers so far were inadequate in addressing the issue.
The feeling that their life had improved in terms of prosperity eluded the French participants. Nearly 40 percent felt that they were worse off now than five years ago. Older generations - those aged 45 and above - were the most vulnerable to this feeling. Almost half of the respondents felt that far-reaching reforms were needed to plug the gaps but a majority saw such reforms as disadvantageous for more people on the whole.
Respondents believed that France must boost its competitiveness as a business location by improving the quality of schools and university and supporting research and new technologies. A strong protectionist undertone was evident in the survey, with 65 percent of the respondents wanting companies protected from foreign acquisition. The French also want companies to create jobs locally and not abroad. Securing pensions and addressing growing inequalities were other concerns of the French respondents.
Attitudes to the European Union differ between the two countries, but not dramatically. In both countries, just a minority is convinced that an EU membership is more disadvantageous than advantageous. But the rest either believe that their country benefits from the membership (37 percent in Germany and 31 percent in France) or that the advantages and disadvantages balance each other out.
However, a whopping majority of both the French and the Germans believes that fundamental reforms are needed in the EU, a clear call for action.
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