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Unity after adversity?

The first signs are emerging that Europe might be ready to put the Covid-19 pandemic behind. Vaccination drives have gained pace, infections have fallen considerably and some semblance of normalcy is returning to daily life.

Going to a restaurant for dinner or planning a summer vacation is no longer wishful thinking.

After an eventful year and a half, we are ready to shake off the corona fatigue. Are we also ready to use the lessons from the pandemic to build back stronger, greener and more digital? The latest edition of Allianz Pulse, an annual mood check of France, Germany and Italy, suggests the crisis has done little to change old beliefs on the continent. 

Stronger together?

Despite ideological differences and simmering tensions, the EU bloc came together remarkably well to fight the virus and its fallout. You would have thought that the united response to the pandemic would have reinforced the idea of unity in European diversity.

However, despite the Next Generation EU (NGEU) fund, a 750 billion-euro recovery package to support EU member states hit by Covid-19, there is skepticism that the Europeans can be a big, happy family. Just 27 percent of the respondents to the Allianz Pulse survey believe that the unprecedent crisis will strengthen solidarity in the EU. Of these, the German are the most skeptical, with less than a quarter of those surveyed seeing post-crisis EU solidarity. As the worst hit by the pandemic and the largest recipients of the EU Recovery Fund, the Italians seem to see more value in remaining in the bloc, with 30 percent of the respondents believing the crisis has brought the Europeans closer. As for the French, 27 percent expect the same.

Partly to blame is a lack of awareness about the EU pandemic recovery programs such as the NGEU fund and Support to Mitigate Unemployment Risks in an Emergency (SURE). More than a quarter of the participants in the survey had not heard of the programs. In Germany and France, nearly a third. But the Italians were more aware of the programs, with just 15 percent not being aware.

Little wonder then that the overall approval of EU steps to fight the pandemic is just 30 percent. In fact, 45 percent actually believe the crisis will weaken EU solidarity. “The EU remains unloved by many, despite the billion euro of grants to support the recovery,” says Allianz Chief Economist Ludovic Subran. “The dissatisfaction runs deep. It is fueled by the perceived gap in national economic performance.”

allianz pulse 2021 european union solidarity
Source: Allianz Research

Greener if gratis

Everyone agrees that we need to be greener. But how to get there, is another story. Just 28 percent of the respondents give a thumbs-up to the goal of more than halving emissions by 2030. Again, the Italians support the goal more that the French and the Germans do. The reason for the disagreement comes from two opposite beliefs. More than a quarter think the target is not ambitious enough, while nearly a third believe it overshoots the need.

The least favored method of fighting climate change is carbon prices. Only 9 percent of respondents are for using this instrument. As for carbon tax, just a fifth would be willing to foot a price increase of 10 percent or more. The Germans and the Italians are more receptive to the idea at 22 percent than the French. Interestingly, the level of income made no difference to the willingness to pay.

Respondents seem to prefer softer measures such as more research into and development of sustainable technologies and transparency on carbon footprints of products to harder steps. 

allianz pulse 2021 european union carbon climate change
Source: Allianz Research

Still doubting digital

If it weren’t for online shopping, remote working, Netflix and video conferences, the coronavirus would have shut us all down for a good part of a year and half. You would think this grand show of the virtues of digitalization would have converted many into believers.

Strangely, caution around digitalization persists. While the number of respondents who see more opportunities than risks in digitalization remains higher than doubters, it is still at pre-crisis levels of 35 percent.

The feeling of preparedness for a digital world is lacking in Europe, fomenting skepticism. Infrastructure problems, a lack of skills and unaffordable equipment are other negatives cited. A tenth of the respondents refuse outright to give digitalization a chance. Allianz economist Arne Holzhausen expresses surprise at the results. “The lockdowns were a showcase for the blessings of digitalization. Digitalization is now everywhere – just not in people’s hearts. Skepticism prevails. It seems that old fears die hard,” he says.

Of the three nationalities surveyed, the French seem to be the most resistant to digitalization.

However, the respondents believe that research, training and regulation could be factors that could make digitalization attractive. While the Germans and Italians prefer research to be the focus, the French want regulation to be the priority.

allianz pulse 2021 european union digitalization
Source: Allianz Research

Return of the refugee issue

It’s been the century of crises: the financial crisis, euro crisis, refugee crisis, Covid-19 crisis, climate crisis.

While memories of most of the past crises are fading, the refugee crisis persists in the minds of the respondents. Half of the respondents of the survey believe that their society is still suffering from the events of 2015-16. Just 12 percent of those surveyed would say the migrant crisis was addressed properly back then. Of these, the Germans are the most charitable to the EU and the French the least.

The older populations are more pessimistic about the impact of migration. French responses capture the divide the best. As many as two-thirds of 55- to 64-year-olds have a negative view of the event versus a little over a third of 18- to 24-year-olds.

The findings are worrisome when you consider the changes in European demographics.

Over the next three decades, the working population (ages 20-65) is expected to decline by about 20 percent in Europe. But with 35 percent of respondents in favor of an immigration freeze and 44 percent for limiting immigration, it could become rather difficult for the EU to address shortages of labor going forward. 

allianz pulse 2021 european union refugee crisis
Source: Allianz Research
The report reflects the findings of a survey of representative sample of 1,000 people in Germany, France and Italy. For an in-depth look into the political and economic views of the respondents and their expectations from the future, click here for the third edition of the Allianz Pulse

The Allianz Group is one of the world's leading insurers and asset managers with more than 100 million[1] private and corporate customers in more than 70 countries. Allianz customers benefit from a broad range of personal and corporate insurance services, ranging from property, life and health insurance to assistance services to credit insurance and global business insurance. Allianz is one of the world’s largest investors, managing around 793 billion euros on behalf of its insurance customers. Furthermore, our asset managers PIMCO and Allianz Global Investors manage more than 1.8 trillion euros of third-party assets. Thanks to our systematic integration of ecological and social criteria in our business processes and investment decisions, we are amongst the leaders in the insurance industry in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. In 2020, over 150,000 employees achieved total revenues of 140 billion euros and an operating profit of 10.8 billion euros for the group.

These assessments are, as always, subject to the disclaimer provided below.

*Including non-consolidated entities with Allianz customers.

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Lorenz Weimann
Allianz SE
As with all content published on this site, these statements are subject to our cautionary note regarding forward-looking statements:

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