What do people around the world associate with Germany? What will the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic be for Germany's foreign relationships? A new study published today sheds light on these and many other questions. ‘Außenblick – International perspectives on Germany in times of the Covid-19 pandemic’ has been prepared by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and the Goethe-Institute. Particularly with regard to economic issues, its healthcare system and international relations, Germany is viewed in a very positive light. However, environmental scandals, deficiencies in digitalisation, populism and far-right attacks are perceived in a critical light.
600 respondents from 40 countries, all with substantial knowledge of Germany, provided information to an online survey for the ‘Außenblick – International perspectives on Germany in times of the Covid-19 pandemic’ study. Following this, approximately 50 depth interviews were carried out. The key finding was that the Federal Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in Spring 2020 was perceived internationally as exemplary. However, with regard to the second wave of Covid-19, many respondents expressed amazement at the initial pace of the vaccination campaign and a lack of willingness in the population to abide by Covid-19 regulations.
Germany is still considered a leading economic power and a stable democracy. However, cracks emerge around the issues of digital infrastructure and environmental protection. Participants in the study attested to a discrepancy between Germany's ambitions and reality in these areas. They also identified a need for Germany to make up ground in how it engages with its colonial history. The growth of populist and extremist tendencies was assessed as one of the most significant risks. Participants in the study describe experiencing Germany as a less friendly place in recent years and feeling a more pronounced sense of not being welcome.
According to respondents, a significant aspect of foreign policy is how Germany positions itself in relation to the competing influences and interests of China, the USA and Russia. On the other hand, they consider Germany’s advocacy for a strong Europe to be a given. Respondents saw a general need for Germany to intensify its international connections in the fields of research, science, art and film. At the same time, they praised Germany's global cultural and scientific relationships and how these were approached in a cooperative way. According to respondents, this made collaborating with partner institutions in Germany particularly attractive for researchers and cultural creators.
- Tanja Gönner, spokesperson for the board of directors at the GIZ, emphasised the benefits for her own work. ‘In this study I can find a large amount of specific advice on how to design a collaboration, both in terms of expectations and the themes that can be addressed. In times of Covid-19 it is natural that global health should play a significant part, but other significant issues are green economic stimulus, social cohesion and digitalisation.’ Particularly with regard to the example of digitalisation, Gönner identified contradictory perceptions and high expectations of Germany. ‘On the one hand, the survey holds up a mirror to a deficit. On the other hand, Germany is assigned a special role in drawing up rules and legal and regulatory frameworks. In concrete terms, digital transformation is an ever more significant element of our work and we are making every effort to bring our creative power to bear to the widest possible extent.’
- Johannes Ebert, Secretary General of the Goethe-Institut, says, ‘German continues to be seen as a country of culture with an international influence. The substantial financial support provided to theatres and museums – which is not limited to the pandemic – is seen as a clear social acknowledgement of the value of culture. This forms an important foundation to further advance international cultural exchange in a cooperative and future-oriented way, as the respondents have called for.’ Another point that the interviews attest to is the difficulty of settling in Germany in the long term if you cannot speak German. Erbert continues, ‘We know from previous studies that German skills are critical for success in Germany. In this study as well, many participants call for easier access to the German language. This reinforces our drive to develop and reinforce the support and services we provide for German language learning here and abroad, both for teachers and for students.’
- Kai Sicks, DAAD Secretary General, explains, ‘Respondents around the world greatly value Germany as a location for education and research. At the same time, international talent wants easier access to the German education system. In this, the combination of high-quality teaching and excellent research with only moderate costs for students have proved a great competitive advantage. This is something that Germany should exploit more fully. Other positive comments concern the way that German higher education institutions cooperate intensively with partner institutions around the world and that many international researchers can be found in this country. Respondents also greatly value the many different opportunities for exchange and scholarships for students.
About the Außenblick study
The ‘Außenblick – International perspectives on Germany in times of the Covid-19 pandemic’ study is a collaborative project between the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the Goethe-Institut. The study design consists of two stages, combining a structured online survey in January 2021 and depth interviews in March and April. The study surveyed experts from the three organisations’ partner networks who know this country well and can draw on their observations to articulate their expectations, hopes and fears for Germany. Over 600 individuals from 37 countries submitted answers to the quantitative online survey. 48 participants in 24 countries were asked about their perspectives on Germany in the depth interviews.